NOT for the first time in his career, Kildare’s John Doyle is the leading scorer in the All-Ireland Football Championship, but this year he’s had one of the country’s greatest ever kickers helping him out.
Ireland and Munster out-half Ronan O’Gara spent most of the summer on an international tour of the Southern Hemisphere but before departing for New Zealand, and before Kildare began this year’s championship campaign, he was on hand for a specialist place-kicking training session with Kildare’s dead ball specialist.
O’Gara, no stranger to top-scorer lists, would surely approve of Doyle’s return in 2010 – so far he’s clocked up 1-35, which is six points better than Dublin’s Bernard Brogan (2-26) in second place. Of that total, 25 points have come from frees, although Doyle’s biggest tally came in Kildare’s only defeat of the campaign so far – 0-9 (7 frees) – when they lost out to Louth in the first round of the Leinster championship by 1-22 to 1-16.
And yet despite being the championship’s top scorer, Doyle has come in for scrutiny over his shooting abilities, as he hit six wides in the first half against Monaghan in last Saturday’s qualifier victory against Monaghan.
“It wasn’t the greatest day in front of the goals but that’s the way it goes,’’ Doyle said. “That’s the beauty of it, no matter what people say. We’ve a lot of lads that get the ball and are well capable of putting it over the bar. Once we get over the line as a team, that’s all that’s important.”
There had been suggestions that Doyle had altered his free-taking style in recent weeks after his session with O’Gara, but Doyle says he hasn’t changed a thing. “I missed three (frees) in the first half and one with my left foot in the second half, none of them that easy and there was a bit of a swirling wind. I struck them well and was just unfortunate. That’s the way it goes. I keep the same routine. Everyone will miss. It’s just to make sure (you convert) the bread and butter ones you should be kicking. I’ll get the head down and work hard and I’ll be back kicking them well again,” said Doyle, who says there is a greater belief among the Kildare players than there was in the past.
“There’s a bit of belief there, we don’t panic. If things aren’t going the way we want them we keep the shoulder to the wheel and keep working hard and eventually things open up.”
After three years playing under manager Kieran McGeeney, Kildare’s captain believes the Lilywhites, who face Meath in the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final on Sunday, are better now than when McGeeney took over in 2007.
“I would like to think we are (better),’’ he reflected. “We’ve learned a bit along the way. There’s nothing you learn more than from defeat. There are bigger tests to come and we’ll see how much we’ve learned along the way if we can get over the next hurdle. This is where we want to be.”
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