Bolton from the back to help at the front pays dividends for Lilywhites
The Kildare defender tells of his willingness to get forward and get on the scoresheet, writes MALACHY CLERKIN
EMMET BOLTON laughs when you tell him that the verdict on The Sunday Game was that he should have been hauled to the ground at some point in his 70-yard foray up the pitch in injury-time against Limerick last Saturday night.
“They’re unreal, aren’t they?” he says. “One minute the game’s too cynical, next minute it’s, ‘They should have fouled him.’”
Don’t be fooled though. In his heart of hearts, he doesn’t disagree at all. Winning is winning is winning. There’s a time for wringing your hands at the state of the game and it most definitely is not in the 71st minute of an All-Ireland qualifier with just a point between the teams.
“Yeah” he admits, “to be honest with you, I know if we were in that situation we probably would have pulled a lad down somewhere along the way.”
Limerick did not, however, and the rest is as they say. Bolton took the final pass on the Limerick 21, broke a tackle and kicked the equaliser off his left foot to claw the game into extra-time. Had it gone wide, Kildare’s season would have ended with the kick-out. As it was, they wiped Limerick out in extra-time and kept their spotless record in the qualifiers under Kieran McGeeney intact.
Bolton might not have been the first choice to take a shot of such importance but he wasn’t a mile down the list either. It’s a rare game these days that he doesn’t make it onto the scoresheet, partly down to the fast-break game Kieran McGeeney has Kildare playing and partly down to Bolton’s own self-belief. Even as their hopes began to flatline last weekend, he wasn’t accepting death as a given.
“The type of game we play, we’re always going to make chances. We kicked 16 wides on the weekend, you have to remember that. We’re long enough playing in the qualifiers now to know that you’re always going to get a chance in a close game. It’s championship – teams aren’t beaten until the final whistle and you’re conscious of that whether you’re up by a point or down by a point.
“We knew we’d get a chance because we were playing well in the last 10 minutes and we were starting to break them down. Up until the closing stages, we were finding it very hard to get through them. Granted, we probably didn’t take enough shots and we maybe held on to the ball too long at times. But we could feel that it was getting that little bit easier to get into a shooting position as the game came to an end.
“So it was just going to be a matter of whoever took the shot making sure it went over. We knew we were going to level it at some stage, although we probably did leave it a wee bit late.”
Darragh Ó Sé noted in his column last summer that Bolton had become one of those players who refuses to leave the pitch without a score to his name. He didn’t necessarily mean it in a complimentary way but it captures the Kildare wing-back pretty well.
Bolton says it’s a bit more complicated, that it isn’t just a matter of him having all the freedom in the world to get in the scoring fun. Kildare are too methodical for that and, more to the point, the game is too punishing. Sally forward with abandon too early in a championship match and you’ll get burned.
“At the start, the first 10-15 minutes is about holding your shape and getting a stranglehold on your man. You’re just trying to weather that first 15 minutes because it will always be intense and it will always be tight no matter who you’re playing. Once you get your second wind, that’s when you can start opening up. After that, if you get a chance to go forward, you can go forward. If it’s on, it’s on.
“I’ve been lucky because the way wing-forwards play on a lot of teams these days, they tend to drop deep an awful lot so there’s nothing for it only for me to get forward. That gives me the licence to attack. If my man is going to head to that part of the pitch, then I’m going to go there too.
“Hopefully then we get a turnover and we can try and force a score. I’m definitely first and foremost a defender but I’ll try and get forward at every opportunity to try and help out the lads. The way we play, fellas cover for each other the whole time.”
The last bit is the key. Often you’ll see him go forward and someone like Eoghan O’Flaherty or even Johnny Doyle will hold back and cover his wing.
Otherwise, it just wouldn’t work. Kildare would get shelled by teams exploiting the space left in their defence. Sometimes they get caught but because of their fitness levels and the fact that they’re in their fifth year of working the system, the pros easily outweigh the cons at this stage. Bolton has his freedoms but he’s not alone.
“We’ve always had it since Kieran arrived to Kildare. The whole thinking behind it is the speed you do it at. Say if Ollie Lyons goes forward or if Peter Kelly goes forward, you have to get it moving first time.
“So it doesn’t matter what the number on your back is, that ball needs to be moved quickly so we have to get up in support.
“So the way he wants us to do it is to get it forward as quickly as we can and then be following it up so that there’s always an option for the forwards. So if that means me or Ollie or whoever getting up closer to goal, so be it. But only if it’s on. Our first job is to defend.”
It won’t work every day – it very much didn’t against Meath. Kildare’s habit of always finding one too good in the Leinster championship has given them plenty of practice in the qualifiers and each year they’ve made a virtue of it. Even a scare like last week’s did them some good. Everything was in the mix and they came through it, hauling themselves to within a game of an All-Ireland quarter-final once again.
“You have to enjoy this time of year,” he says. “It’s great to get a bit of momentum going, especially after the Meath game when we came away with a few wrongs to right. We’ve been in the qualifiers a lot and it can stand to teams. I think playing week-in, week-out suits us because of the strength of our panel.
“You’re going from game to game and everyone in the panel is up for it because everyone knows there’s a good chance of playing some part. When the games come that quickly, you know there’s always a chance of fellas getting injured so you’re always ready to go.
“The game against Limerick was a struggle for us. It was a character-building exercise more than anything else. In other years, we’ve brought good form from game to game but this time we went right down to the bottom and all we can bring through from it is the fact that we won. Hopefully it will stand to us.”
When the ball goes up in the Hyde this evening, the dials get reset to zero. He has his homework done and lists off the threats Sligo pose at both ends of the field as though he’d just this minute finished writing up a dossier on them.
When the season gets down to week-to-week, you’ve got to be fast and you’ve got to be smart.
Done and done.
QUARTER-FINAL DRAW: Tonight at 8.30pm
The draw for the quarter-finals of the All-Ireland senior football championship will be broadcast live on RTÉ Radio 1 on Saturday evening. The draw will be conducted live on the Saturday Sport programme at 8.30pm, after the remaining round four qualifier games have been completed. Provincial champions Cork, Donegal, Dublin and Mayo will be joined in the last eight by the winners of Saturday’s games: Meath v Laois, Down v Tipperary, Sligo v Kildare, Clare v Kerry.
Provincial champions can’t face each other until the semi-final stage. One further restriction is that provincial final pairings cannot be repeated. The CCCC will announce dates and venues for the ties on Sunday, with the likely outcome being two double bills over the weekend of Saturday, August 4th and Sunday, August 5th.