INTERVIEW: Kildare's Emmett Bolton takes a trip down memory lane

Leinster Final Preview

Tommy Callaghan

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Tommy Callaghan

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tommy@leinsterleader.ie

INTERVIEW: Kildare's Emmett Bolton takes a trip down memory lane

He has been a regular on the Kildare side since getting his first start back in 2007 from then manager John Crofton.

“I didn’t start the first game but Mark Scanlon picked up an injury against Down in that League clash, a game that ended in a draw; I got in; got my first championship later that year and have never looked back since.”

Emmet Bolton, Eadestown to the core; Kildare to the backbone, was selected on the GPA Player of the Year in 2010; an All Star nominee in 2011 and the same year was a member of the successful Ireland squad in the Inter-national Rules Series.

A solid defender, who has a great knack of getting forward; has been known to put the ball both over and under the bar for Kildare and who takes great pride in pulling on the light blue colour jersey of his home club Eadestown.

This year though has been a very traumatic one for a defender who seems to be around for longer than ten years but who has not yet blown out the candles on his 32nd birthday cake.

He takes up the story.

“I hadn’t had the year I wanted last year (2016)  and did not perform well; I had a very poor game against Mayo in the Qualifiers; taken off at half time after Diarmuid O’Connor kicked 1-3 off me and so I wanted to start the year fresh.

“I did a really good pre-season  and then the Monday before Christmas my appendix burst, and I didn’t realise and it was burst for eight days before I eventually went into hospital; got a CT done and they operated 20 minutes later; I was extremely lucky; I was just an hour or two away from it being fatal so something like that puts everything into perspective, really frightening to think what could have happened.”

All though of football went out the window at that stage?

“For the month of January I was simply focusing on getting myself right and while I wouldn’t say football was the last thing on my mind, it certainly wasn’t the first; trying to get my health right while trying to be fair to Cian (O’Neill) and all the medical team; anything and every-thing I wanted I got; they didn’t rush me back; I got great support from the team and of course from home from Leanne (wife) my parents, everyone really.”

So a very tough and trying time?

“It certainly was, I lost a lot of weight so it was just a question of getting myself fit; I missed January and February  and most of March and came back to training then. James (Carolan) physio and Neil (Welch) strength and conditioning gave me a set programme as I set out to  get back to full fitness.

“Thankfully I am at that stage now, so it is just a case of putting as much pressure on Johnny (Byrne) and Keith (Cribbin) and ensuring that if I am called on,  be in the last  10 or 15 minutes, or whenever, I am in the position to do a job; while at the same time pushing Johnny and Keith to their maximum - for me that is what it is all about.”

2010 is the season Emmet looks back as one of his most successful years, although it certainly did not start out that way.

“Geezer (Kieran McGeeney) started me at cornerback against Louth in Navan in the championship,  was taken off after 18 minutes;  JP Rooney kicked four of the first five points, and set up the fifth,  and it was then I got the ‘curly finger’ and called ashore.

“We then had a nine week break before the Qualifiers and I worked my way back into the team; had a very good year; the most successful year; a year we very unlucky to lose the semi final I have to say.”

Kildare just couldn’t get that vital big win  in those years when they edged so close to an All Ireland semi final spot, why was it or what was it?

“Certainly luck wasn’t on our side but we just couldn’t get over the line despite being prepared as well as we possibly could  but there was no more they (management) could do once we went over the white line; it was down to us but at times we just didn’t perform to the level we were capable of; just shy.

“Other times we were just short of it; against Donegal; the free from Bernard Brogan in the Leinster semi final; we had them on the ropes but one or two bits of back luck; very disappointing and very frustrating also” added Bolton.

Having said that the popular Eadestown man was  quick to point out that he has been very fortunate to play with fantastic footballers during that time. 

“Footballers such as Johnny (Doyle) Dermot (Early) Eamonn (Callaghan) Mikey (Conway), Daryl (Flynn), they gave it their all for the Kildare jersey; I was so lucky; at 16 and looking up to Glenn (Ryan) Rainbow and those lads and then getting the opportunity to play with them; being in the same dressing room was a huge honour and the fact that I can call  all those lads my friends today is an even bigger honour.”

And how would today’s team and today’s set-up compare with some of the teams in your previous decade or so of involvement?

“Today’s setup is extremely professional, I think, and I would be fairly confident to say, that we have the best backroom team in the entire country. Neil Welsh leading strength and conditioning man in Santry and you can’t get better than that; James Carolan, top physio; Jason McGann from Sports Science side of things, all top notch at their game while Roli (Sweeney) and Enda (Murphy) are simply fantastic additions.

“Roli does the majority of the coaching and the way he has worked with Cian and Enda over the past year has been simply incredible; just see how he has improved our forward play; everything he does; how he speaks; how he holds himself; how he demands professionalism from everyone; it is all a step up again from where we have been; it is all absolutely fantastic.”

And when you were lying in Naas hospital last Christmas, did you have any doubts of getting back or did the thought ever cross your mind this was the end of your county football career?

“They told me in the hospital that it would be three months before I would even run again, whether they were just erring on the side of caution I don’t know but I had great help from our medical team; so it was just a matter of getting on to the pitch and seeing how the body was.

“I have been around now for ten years and muscle memory and fitness memory I felt it would take me just a short amount of time to get back to where I was before the appendix kicked up because I have been doing that for so long now; it was tough at the time but thankfully now I am back to full fitness.”

A member of the Eadestown team that clinched the IFC in 2014 under manager Dessie Brennan, who also tasted SFC success with Moorefield, Emmet emphasised that that win of his own club was, without doubt, the biggest day in his footballing career, to date.

“Club football is the pinnacle for any player; successful footballers all say winning a club championship, a provincial championship or an All Ireland championship is the real pinnacle of their careers and for me coming from a small club like Eadestown; when we hadn’t won a senior championship from the early 70s; we were in two IFC finals (2001 and 2002) before we won one, but  that was the highlight of my career so far and to do it with Cian (brother) and dad, part of the management team, it was just hugely satisfying.

“You grow up with these guys; went to school with them, and to be able to tog out with them; small parish team; brothers, cousins, everyone is related; neighbours; we played Rathangan that year and they beat us and I remember standing in the pitch after the game with Barry Lawlor and saying to him ‘where are we going’ it just wasn’t going for us and then all of a sudden everything just clicked.”

Gushing with pride he added “we worked hard at training; Dessie Brennan had us moving well; to be fair to him (Dessie) he ruffled a few feathers and I think he got under a lot of guys skins and they were trying to prove him wrong; we won the semi final against Kilcock and were massive underdogs in the final but we just wanted it so bad and when you have a forward of the calibre of Cian who kicked ten points that day, when you have a guy like that on song it goes a long way to winning a championship but definitely the highlight of my career; absolutely brilliant.”

Is football a better game today than ten years ago?

“Yes, I think so; the game has evolved as regards the pace as a spectacle I think it is better, more scores, more free flowing; it’s hard to know whether the black card is a good or a bad thing but it is showcasing the forwards skills a lot more; whether that is because guys are a little bit afraid to tackle I don’t know but I just think the game as whole is more entertaining.

“It was a lot more physical back then and you needed to be carrying a few more kgs around the middle eight especially; anytime the ball was either caught or broke there seemed to be a big scrum so you had to be physically strong to break those tackles.

“Now you have to be lean and strong and fast and fit especially around the middle eight as you have to cover ten or eleven kilometres a game” adding “today you see a lot more substitutions than ten years ago; we have used substitutions after guys who started have emptied the tank after 50, 55 minutes but the guys that come in are equally as fit and can close out games; you see it a lot in the rugby and now that is all part of the modern GAA game.”

And what does the future hold for Emmet Bolton?

Hopefully winning a Leinster final on July 16; it would be a massive achievement for those guys and I think the maturity that is there is fantastic; an average age of just 24; Cian (O’Neill) made a point the other day there are only two of the squad who have played in a Leinster final that are in the group at the minute but a lot of guys have won at minor and U21 so there is a winning habit there; guys like Kevin Feely, Eoin Doyle, these guys drive us on, day in and day out at training.”

The enthusiasm and belief that Emmet Bolton espouses is a joy to listen to.

“We have a group of players that go to training; guys that want to improve; they are not just happy to go training, get the session finished and go home; they are there early; they are working on all their skill sets; they want to improve; they speak to Cian; they speak to Roli; they speak to Enda; they speak to Neil and Jason if they think they need to improve certain aspects of their game; they all  want to improve; they are all very, very vocal; the entire thing is player driven at the moment and that is a fantastic place to be.

“For me it is probably one of the most, ability-wise, the most talented panel I have been involved in; the talent; the ability it is all absolutely huge; just look at the likes of Paddy Brophy, Daniel Flynn Kevin Feely, Paul Cribbin and I could go on; but the ability is simply fantastic.

“I truly believe if we get things right we have a great, great chance in the Leinster final, it is just a matter now of working hard on the training field; we will obviously have a look at Dublin; then stick the head down; we will focus on them over the week, check the areas they are weak and strong at but at the end of the day we just have to look after ourselves.

“We haven’t been in a Leinster final since 2009 so hopefully we just get into Croke Park and go for it; take the shackles off and express ourselves; take risks and absolutely go for it because the ability is there; the talent is there; the football skill is there to win a Leinster final and I have no doubt that if we perform on the day to the levels we are capable of doing we will come out with the right result.”