Wednesday 21 August 2019

'It has benefited us in building momentum' - Tyrone's Niall Sludden sees gain from Super 8s ahead of Kerry clash

Niall Sludden: ‘Hitting form’. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Niall Sludden: ‘Hitting form’. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Francis Mooney

Niall Sludden has promised that Tyrone won't be afraid to shake things up should they find themselves in a crisis at Croke Park on Sunday.

If they need to change the point of attack to stretch Kerry, they'll do so with a shift in style, from running game to long ball, or vice versa.

The Red Hands have developed an alternative strategy this year, but reverted to their more recognised approach after Donegal nullified the use of a target man in the Ulster Championship semi-final.

However, after being stunned by two Cork goals in a Super 8s tie at Croke Park last month, they played their way out of trouble by pushing key men forward in a route-one barrage.

"I don't think it's that difficult. We have been working on it for a number of years, trying to switch up our game," said Sludden.

"Maybe a lot of people out there were saying we're a bit too one-dimensional, but I think we're very good now at mixing up the kicking and the running game.

"Mickey (Harte) always tells us to be adaptable, that's a big word that we use around the squad. Whether you're five points down or five points up, it's all about game management, and that experience over the last couple of years has stood to us and will stand to us."

A battle-hardened Tyrone go into a third successive All-Ireland semi-final for the first time in the county's history, galvanised by years of championship combat with the country's top teams.

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Along the way, they have given and taken the hits and developed immense powers of recovery to establish a steely resilience.

"It is important, it's nice to have that experience behind you. It's just about making sure that you perform on the day," said the Red Hand centre-forward. "We have been on a journey, this team has been building for a number of years, but we want to make sure it counts on Sunday.

"We're confident in the team and the panel that we have, and hopefully we can do a job on them."

A somewhat farcical Healy Park tie between two second-string teams which ended in a meaningless six-point win for Dublin last weekend has reinforced calls for the scrapping of the Super 8s, as Group 2 ended with two dead rubbers.

But Sludden doesn't want to see any rash decisions made on the future of the All-Ireland quarter-final round robin series, which has now completed the second of its trial seasons.

"At the start I wouldn't have been the biggest fan of it. I thought knock-out was the best way to go.

"But I have really enjoyed the last couple of years. The opportunities to get to play in Omagh, in front of a big crowd, has been really good for Tyrone.

"And days out in Croke Park, Ballybofey last year, have been great.

"I think it has stood to us, getting those extra games, and it has benefited us as a squad in building momentum."

The Dromore man was one of just a handful of established Red Hand stars to play any part in last weekend's low-key meeting with the Dubs.

It was used to give game-time to fringe players, to a handful returning from injury, and in Sludden's case, to a man on his way back to top form.

"I'm hitting form at the right time, and I'm ready to go for Sunday and hopefully the rest of the lads will be ready for it, it's going to be a big task in Croke Park against Kerry.

"Personally, I feel a lot better. You're always up against it with competition in the squad, and I thought the boys who came in on Sunday did really well against the Dubs."

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