SIX weeks before the Guinness Pro12 final, Connacht’s Limerick-born logistics manager Martin Joyce sat down for a planning meeting with team manager Tim Allnutt.
Janesboro native Joyce had something on his mind. After seven years taking the Connacht equipment van over and back on the ferry across the Irish sea to Scotland and Wales for league fixtures, he was laying his cards on the table.
Should Pat Lam’s side reach last Saturday’s Pro12 final at Murrayfield, Garryowen clubman Joyce wasn’t going to drive the van home, someone else should do it.
What an inspired piece of foreward thinking it proved! On Saturday, Connacht completed a fairytale season when lifting the Pro12 title for the first time in their history.
When the victorious squad jetted back into Knock Airport in the small hours of Sunday morning, Joyce was with them. He wasn’t missing this moment for anything.
The kit van would arrive later, with someone else at the steering wheel.
Martin Joyce said: "The bus taking us along the tarmac out to the plane at Edinburgh Airport was rocking. The lads were signing and chanting. It was a typical, on-the-bus, rugby team sing-song.
”We arrived into Knock about 1.30am on Sunday. There were about 2,000 fans there. It was crazy o'clock for kids to be up, but there were lots of them there. It was fantastic. We couldn't believe it.
"We must have passed 20 bonfires on the way from Knock to Galway, proper, proper bonfires.
"The opentop bus in Galway on Sunday was unbelievable. If we could get that crowd into the Sportsground every week, we'd never lose a match!"
Joyce had travelled to Scotland on Thursday morning, going on the ferry from Belfast Dock to Cairnryan. The drive to Edinburgh took about two and-a-half hours.
“You have all the kit and equipment, radio systems, analysis laptops, TVs we use at half time, that kind of stuff.
“As well as that, I had 500 Connacht flags, buntings and posters with me, everything that had Connacht on it. Eddie the Eagle's (team mascot) suit was in the back of the van too. It was up to the ceiling.
“ I have never seen them so relaxed. I am not saying they were confident, but they just knew their jobs.
“The belief and trust the lads have in each other is fantastic. For their first final, the nerves didn't get to them, bar one or two times in the second half when he kicked the ball back to them.
“Jack Carty our out-half, who wasn't selected, turned to me after 78 minutes and said, 'we've won, we've won'. I just said: 'no, we haven't'. We were 10 points up. We won a line-out soon after I just just said, 'we have it now.'
“Even though Jack was right, we had the game won after 78 minutes, I just couldn't accept it.
“When the full-time whistle went, Usain Bolt was trying to catch me going across the pitch, but he couldn't keep up! We just ran and ran, jumping on each other, pure elation and excitement. It was fantastic.
“I was so happy for our captain John Muldoon. To see John lift the trophy was heartwarming. The guy is an absolute legend.
“He is the perfect role model for any young player. He’d make a great politician.
“We were everyone’s second favourite team. No one really saw us as a threat. People’s attitude will change a little now! The style of rugby we have been playing is attractive, enjoyable to watch.”