Doyle insists collective work ethic can keep Kildare on target
Johnny Doyle began his career in an era of glory for Kildare but has known the pain of disappointment so much since that, while he would never call it a friend, it was certainly a neighbour.
He burst onto the scene as an impossibly skinny centre-forward in 2000. Looking like a puff of wind would blow him over, you feared for his health against some of the more agricultural defenders doing the rounds.
He prospered, though, as Kildare won the Leinster title for the second time in three years, having waited 42 years to experience that thrill in 1998. They never managed it again. Despite Doyle scoring seven points, Dublin touched them off in the 2002 final.
In the following year's decider, midfielder Alan Barry was sent off very harshly after just five minutes and Laois, managed by former Kildare boss Mick O'Dwyer, had a goal to spare at the death.
It went rapidly downhill thereafter: lifeless against Wexford in 2004; handed a 12-point pummelling by Laois in 2005; men against boys in Celtic Park the next year. And after that, Meath and Louth struck fatal blows without being tested.
Throughout it all, Doyle performed, bringing a savage work rate that one doesn't automatically associate with free-takers. That he habitually totted up eye-popping personal tallies confirmed him as one of the game's top marksmen.
It's hard to believe that the championship's leading scorer with 1-35 could hit seven wides in a game (six in the first half) but that's what happened to Doyle last week against Monaghan. In the analysis that followed, the fact that he set up 1-4 or was Kildare's most prolific winner of breaks around the middle escaped many.
He will be on free-taking duty tomorrow but he genuinely doesn't care who scores as long as Kildare win. He's had his fill of slotting 10 points in a losing effort.
"It wasn't the greatest day in front of the goals," Doyle admits. "(There were) a few that I should be hitting but that's the way it goes. I'm there to do a job and to work hard. That's the beauty of it: no matter what people say, we have a lot of lads that'll get the ball and are well capable of putting it over."
Kieran McGeeney's term as manager has not been without its bumps, but a steely resolve exists now that has them in an All-Ireland quarter-final for the third consecutive year.
That represents success, given where Kildare have been, but if progress is to be maintained, Meath must be beaten. This panel has what it takes, Doyle believes.
"We need to kick on and get over the next hurdle," he says. "This is a special group of lads. There's nobody leaving it for someone else. Everyone's working hard and there's a great team ethos and that's what we need if we're going forward."