Sludden excited by Tyrone potential

Thursday, 13 July 2017

TYRONE brought their game to a new level in the Ulster semi-final against Donegal, but Niall Sludden believes they can raise the bar even higher in this weekend's decider.

The Dromore man is excited by the potential of a talented team, and feels Sunday could be the day when they send out a big message to the GAA world.

Disciplined tackling and explosive breaks from deep were at the heart of a superb showing at Clones a few weeks ago, when they saw off their fierce north-west rivals by 1-21 to 1-12.

"I think you have to bring it on another step. I suppose the modern game is all about breaking down the massed defence," said Sludden.

"You can't be keeping men behind all the time, you need as many men up there as possible.

"But obviously you need to make sure that you're protecting the house as well.

"The game is evolving, and we're enjoying the way it's being played at the moment."

For all their attacking brilliance, the Red Hands continue to struggle in terms of goal-scoring.

They have hit the net just once in the current championship, but it's a problem that does not overly concern centre forward Sludden.

"I think in the last game, we created a lot of chances. I suppose our finishing wasn't up to scratch, but it's not something that worries us.

"We hit 21 points. We have been creating the chances, and that's a good thing, but we have to tag on the points as well, and if we win by scoring points, I don't think we'll be complaining about that, and I don't think Tyrone folk will complain either."

Sludden has given 'the mark' the thumbs up, and despite manager Mickey Harte's disdain for the new rule, it served his side well in the semi-final, with the high-fielding Colm Cavanagh making a number of valuable calls.

"We would always have worked on long kick-outs anyway, and if someone caught the ball, you're always told to play it quick.

"But I think we have seen over the last couple of games that it is very beneficial, and again if you're moving that ball quick, the opposition can't get set up as quick, then it leaves more gaps and then more opportunities for goal chances as well.

"As a centre forward, it's nice, the link pass is coming in to you, and you're getting that ball into space, and when you have corner forwards like Darren McCurry, Mark Bradley and Ronan O'Neill, and Sean Cavanagh in there as well, it's just a matter of getting the right ball into them, knowing that they can do the damage on the score-board."

Now in his second year in the squad, Sludden is an established member of the set-up and a key team member.

He has chosen to commit himself to a demanding lifestyle, but has managed to find a balance that works for him

"It doesn't have to be your whole life, but it certainly is the majority of your life.

If you're in the squad, you're really prepared to do anything to win.

"You sacrifice quite a bit in terms of family and friends, but I'm really happy to be doing that, when you're in places like Ulster finals, and getting the opportunity to go two in a row. Then you feel that it's certainly worth it."

It's not so long ago that he was a young supporter cheering on his heroes, and he recalls the last Ulster final meeting of Tyrone and Down, which he attended as an 11-year-old fan back in 2003.

"As a young kid, I was thinking that Tyrone were probably going to walk it. Tyrone had won the league final and there was good optimism in the county, and they were expected to get over Down that day.

"It was a great game. I was behind the goals, and i remember the ball hitting the net, I think it was Dan Gordon was in full forward. Benny Coulter got a goal early on as well.

"They were a bit shell-shocked, but it was a great comeback, the fight that Tyrone showed that day was great.

"I think we got a bit of a shock that day as fans, but it just shows you, you have to be ready on the day and you can never take your foot off the gas. Then Tyrone went on and won the first All-Ireland."

This time he'll be in the thick of the action, and he expects Down to pose a stiff challenge at St Tiernach's Park on Sunday.

 "Against Monaghan they were very impressive. I was very impressed by the physicality they brought.

"I have played with a number of those boys at college level and I know how skilful those boys are, and we're going to have to be well prepared for them.

"They're very similar to us, very good ball players, and we really need to be watching out for them.

"They're very quick on the counter-attack as well, very pacy going forward, and they like to get the ball in early in to their full forward line, who are very dangerous as well.

"It's a different final. People maybe weren't expecting them to come through, but they're there."

And if the Red Hands can reproduce the quality that saw them rout Donegal in the semi-final, then they should be on their way to a second successive Ulster title.

"On the day, there were a lot of things that clicked. Looking back, there are things that we could say we could still work on and improve.

"But it's going to be a different day out in the Ulster final, and we're going to have to be ready for that. You have to be ready to adapt your game too," he said.

"I suppose a lot of people were thinking that against Donegal, it was the complete performance, but myself, and I know the team as well, are always looking to see what we can improve on.

"Discipline is massive, especially against inter-county teams. Every inter-county team will have a good free-taker, and they're going to punish you.

"So it's really important that when you're getting numbers back, you don't foul. You have to be patient as well, because it's not always going to happen for you straight away."


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