Expectation surrounding Kildare has rarely stacked up with reality, apart from a couple of seasons under Kieran McGeeney.
The standards and consistency achieved in that era, when they appeared in five consecutive All-Ireland quarter-finals and reached the 2010 semi-final, are how the current crop have been judged, inside and outside the county, despite the fact the panel has undergone a monumental transformation.
While a youthful squad containing seven subsequent championship debutants and 10 U21s did reach the semi-final of the secondary competition last year before failing to make an impact in the summer, a host of injuries that required 16 operations was always going to leave them short-handed this year.
It proved useful though in terms of blooding new players against elite teams and while their weaknesses and lapses were cruelly exposed at times, that made it a worthwhile campaign, says Bolton.
“With a lot of lads injured you would have had a smooth transition between getting your periphery players and new lads from trials in and seeing them between O’Byrne Cup and league.
“I think it’s been a smooth transition, especially as [Jason] was there last year as well and we knew the workings of it.
“Darroch [Mulhall] stood up well, Cathal McNally, Mick O’Grady, Keith Cribbin, Tommy Moolick is playing the football of his life... it’s fantastic to unearth players like that and give them game-time.
“They’ve played the Mayos and Corks and Tyrones and Dublins, that’s a huge thing for them, they know what it’s like. Division 1 football, win or lose you’re playing at that tempo and there is a difference, you’re at a level where there’s a higher percentage of turnovers and things but it’s great that we’ve got that under our belt coming into championship, even if we were relegated.”
The misfortune hasn’t cleared completely and certain starters, Peter Kelly (hamstring), O’Grady (broken cheekbone) and Mulhall (appendicitis) are ruled out of tomorrow’s game.
Despite the significant transition within the squad, there remains a select core of experienced operators, including Bolton, Eamonn Callaghan, Mick Foley, Tomás O’Connor, Hugh McGrillen and Padraig O’Neill.
The Eadestown man says he is enjoying it now as much as ever.
“I don’t think any of the lads would still be here if they didn’t. A mix between that and the goal of winning the All-Ireland.
“I love coming training, you’ve great craic with the lads, at the right times of course. The lads here are my best friends.”