Joycey keeps the sunny side up

Connacht’s kit manager Martin Joyce

Connacht’s kit manager Martin Joyce

Popular Connacht kit manager Martin Joyce is this week relaxing in the Italian sun with his family, with just a couple of suitcases to supervise.

Normally, however, Joycey - as he is more popularly known - is organising all the squad's gear, setting up team dressing rooms prior to kick-off, driving long distances, and organising subs on the pitch. And it is all done with a sense of humour.

"I make sure everything is there for the lads, that they are grounded, in good form, and they are never in need of anything. I try to keep a smile on people's faces," he says.

A sense of humour is vital for the job such is his close relationship with the squad.

"It's a job where people are always under scrutinty, the players are always being watched or criticised. You have to bring them back down to reality, specially at times when big heads can develop, or sometimes when things are really low.

"You need to have a bit of normality because you are not going to achieve anything if you are not having fun. We play and we have fun as well."

Luckily there was no reason to jolly players along on Saturday.

"I was down a lot earlier than normal,because I was getting itchy feet in the hotel. So I was just happy to get down to the dressing room and was just working away there fine. Then the lads arrived, the reception they got outside from the crowd was hairs on the neck stuff. I think it shook everyone a little bit.

"We had to take a deep breath and absorb it, and then refocus. Nothing was said, there was a look around in the dressing room, everyone acknowledged it. It was a beautiful moment that will live with me forever," he says.

Once on the pitch, Joycey is connected to management to ensure replacements are efficiently brought on to the pitch after warming up.

"I have Pat in my ears calling the subs on and off and that can be stressful at times. When Tiernan [O'Halloran] went down hurt, we were biting out fingernails to see if we could get him on and off, and with the noise of the crowd in the background and trying to hear the instructions, it can have its stressful moments.

"I never really felt fully comfortable. Jack Carty said to me when we kicked to the corner with just over a minute to go 'we have this won', I said no, we secure the line-out and then we have it won. I didn't want Leinster to score at the end, I wanted to finish with our line intact in that last period of play and go out on a high, so when we turned the ball over and attacked, it was nice.

"It is a bit surreal at the moment because we have had such bad times, and it's been a long road to get where we are. You always dreamed of it, being possible, question if it was ever going to become a reality, and finally it has come true."

After seven years as the province's kit man, Joycey says everything has changed at the Sportsground.

"You see thousands of people here, there is belief, there are more coaches, more facilities, resources. Unfortunately it's a professional game and you need those resources to achieve, and we will now try to build on what we have and push on to even bigger things."

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