Sports

Cup success will help league campaign, says Sludden

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Niall Sludden believes an extended run in the Dr McKenna Cup will help Tyrone iron out the rough edges ahead of the National Football League campaign, which begins next month.

The Dromore man admitted that many problems emerged during the pre-season competition, but he's hoping to see a fluent, cohesive Red Hand side take the field for the NFL opener against Roscommon next month.

“It's very important. You have to get the points on the board early on. All these performances in the McKenna Cup are building towards our first game at home against Roscommon," he said.

“If you don't get those first couple of wins, you're really under pressure.

“Any game we go out, we want to win, irrespective of the quality we're up against.

“We definitely know this year it's going to be a big step up, but we're really looking forward to that challenge.

“But we know that on our day we can beat anyone. We need to be competing against the top tier teams.

“It's very important, intensity-wise. If we take our foot off the pedal, the Division One teams are going to punish you. So there's plenty of learning to be done in Division One."

Tyrone experienced significant difficulty in dealing with the challenge Fermanagh presented in Sunday's Dr McKenna Cup semi-final at Clones.

They eventually emerged with a three points win, but only after being stretched to the limit by the gutsy Erne men.

“We let them have a bit of momentum, we gave a lot of ball away in the forward line, myself included, and when you do that, you make it hard for yourself, and they kept chipping away with the scores.

“We gave away a lot of frees, so we're going to have to be more disciplined.

“There's plenty of learning to be done, but we still got the win, and that's the main thing."

Despite the loss of a number of players to injury in the opening game against Cavan, the Red Hands have a strong and renewed squad for Sunday's decider against Derry.

“Injuries are part and parcel of the game, and we have got a very big squad and a number of boys to still come back in, and it's very competitive," said Sludden.

“Today as well, we were running the bench, with a number of boys coming in, and that's very important as well, with the heavy ground out there."

Tyrone have bounced back from an opening round defeat to Cavan to win three on the trot and qualify for another final and an opportunity to win a sixth successive McKenna Cup title.

“The first game didn't really go for us, and there were a couple of injuries too.

“We could have been looking at very much doom and gloom, but we just got the heads down and a couple of boys have come in and stepped up to the plate, especially new boys who have come in and integrated well.

“Once we have got a second win on the board, we knew it was always possible to get into another semi-final.

“We'd rather be playing games than training. I suppose at the start of the year in the McKenna Cup, with losing the first game,. It didn't look like that, but we're very happy to be in the final, and we're set up for another big game."

And he would dearly love to retain the trophy with another win over Derry on Saturday evening.

“It's nice setting records as well, and it's going to be a good challenge next week. But it's going to take a better performance than that."

Meanwhile, Tyrone manager Mickey Harte does not believe this weekend's clash with Derry will have any bearing on their forthcoming Anglo-Celt Cup encounter.

“I don't think it will have a real serious bearing on the Championship but as I said last year, I would rather be winning games than losing them," he said.

“That doesn't guarantee you will win the most important one, but I think it's still important to know you can still win games against your opponents whatever the competition. We will not be going out holding back, but knowing that this has nothing to do with the Championship.

“The Championship will stand on its' own and by the time that comes around, there will probably be a different complexion on both our teams, depending on how we have done at that time."

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