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Backs the new forwards in Lilies brand of 'total football'


Bolton: Scored 2-2in last two games.

Bolton: Scored 2-2in last two games.

Bolton: Scored 2-2in last two games.

How appropriate was it that, when John Doyle's free deep into Galway territory broke off Dermot Earley as time closed out in Sunday's Division 2 football promotion battle in Salthill, it was Emmett Bolton who was on hand to scoop it and draw the foul from Gary O'Donnell that led to Doyle's penalty leveller?

Bolton had been probing all afternoon, consistently picking holes in the Galway cover and getting into dangerous positions behind enemy lines with his customary stealth.

He created seven clear scoring opportunities for himself, bagging a goal and a point in the first half, creating that late penalty for Doyle, an earlier opportunity that spilled out of his control and was cleared, and also three shots short into the grateful arms of Galway goalkeeper Adrian Faherty.

Bolton's propensity for attack was in keeping with Kildare's clear strategy throughout this league campaign.

The numbers on their backs have been largely irrelevant. Defenders have freely operated in advanced positions at various stages, with the result that seven different players wearing numbers from two to seven made the scoresheet in their seven games.

Bolton has led the way with 2-2 in his last two games and, with Morgan O'Flaherty's goal against Louth back in March, Kildare half-backs have now found the net in three consecutive games. So much for the goal drought reputation that they have been saddled with. In the top three divisions, only Tyrone, Wexford and Antrim have scored more goals.

After Bolton, O'Flaherty has been the next most productive defender, adding three points in different games to that goal against Louth.

Eoghan O'Flaherty started the first two games of the league at left half-back so his two points from play against Monaghan were, strictly speaking, the work of a defender that day, which brings the cumulative total of scores from Kildare backs in the league to 3-13, an average of more than three points per game.

The darting run of Ollie Lyons to sneak past the Meath defenders in Navan for the winner in the third-round match was the beginning of the downward spiral to Division 3 for the Royals. It was Lyons' second point of the night.

"The game is changing," acknowledged Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney after Sunday's great survival act against Galway.

"Contrary to the opinion of our past greats who think the game hasn't been good since they retired, the game is changing. I think our full-back line scored eight or nine points in the championship last year.

"Look at Marc O Se -- those types of footballers are the way the game is being played now and whether people like them or not, they're class acts. It is important. Everybody has to be able to play everywhere. Every player has to accommodate himself in every position."

Kildare's scoring returns in this league have compared more than favourably with the Tyrone defence's productivity when they were winning All-Ireland titles.

In this campaign they have outstripped Tyrone in scores contributed by defenders. Cathal McCarron and Peter Harte have been the architects of the latest Red Hand revival that saw them sweep to seven consecutive wins.

McCarron has bagged 1-6, Harte 2-4 from play out of a 5-5 total, while Damien McCaul has also added 1-1. But that's still two points (3-11) adrift of Kildare's 3-13.

Building from the back through the runs made by Lyons, Hugh McGrillen, Bolton and Morgan O'Flaherty is arguably their best offensive weapon.

In six championship games last summer defenders contributed 1-10 from play. Bolton hit 1-5 of that; now the support from the back is coming more often and in greater numbers.

But it may be coming at a price. Their average rate of concession per game is over 16 points. In contrast Tyrone are just below 10 points per game.

If Kildare had competed in Division 1 and conceded the same total they would have had the worst defensive record with one point more than the 9-86 Laois leaked.

As it was Tyrone, Galway, Derry and Meath all had better defensive statistics over the last two months.

Their policy of giving a seventh defender a free role has not been as noticeable in this campaign.

It is food for thought for McGeeney as Kildare seek to advance their expansive 'build from the back' style.

Irish Independent