By Niall Gartland
A HEALTHY majority of clubs across Tyrone have given their endorsement for a full league programme for the 2021 season, and Martin Sludden says his personal ambition is that they can still get everything wrapped up in time for the club championships.
Sludden, who heads the Tyrone Competitions Control Committee (CCC), sought feedback from clubs on their preferred league format for the year ahead; and as it turns out, a traditional programme with eight or nine starred games proved significantly more appealing than the split-league alternatives.
Anticipating that the 2021 season will begin in earnest in late-May, and reinforced by a palpable sensed of goodwill following the successes of last year, Sludden is hoping that it will all go off without a hitch.
“The one thing I’d like to do is get the leagues finished before the championship starts.
“When some teams get knocked out of the championship, they don’t always have much left to play for if they’re sitting in mid-table and there’s four or five league games left to play. They have no chance of getting into the top four and the interest sometimes isn’t there.
“There’s no reason why we can’t get through the fixtures, especially with nine starred matches, but a lot of it depends on how far Tyrone go in the championship.
“That’s the big if – if Tyrone get to the All-Ireland final, which is pencilled in for late August, there might be some concerns as the club championships would have to start shortly afterwards and then we could be back to the same scenario of playing in late October or early November trying to get the leagues finished.”
A recent survey of players in the Gaelic Life seemed to confirm the impression that the Tyrone CCC did a commendable job in trying circumstances last year. Sludden, who is also vice-chairman of the county board, says the clubs have to be prioritised above all other considerations.
The Dromore man said: “I make the point all the time, it’s the clubs that voted me in in the first place, and as long as I’m there, I’ll be prepared to listen to the clubs.
“I sit on the club committee and I’m a club referee so I’m well-versed in the concerns that exist. The day we stop listening to the clubs is the day we get ourselves into massive bother.”
He continued: “The Tyrone Club Championship last year was unbelievable, you only have to look at the amount of games that went to extra-time, but the thing I fought hard for was to get relegation taken away.
“This time last year all the talk was about Covid and the possibility of mass graves and deaths, and this was all new to us. We didn’t know what was going to happen to a particular parish, and we thought clubs were under enough pressure as it was. Hopefully things will be a lot better this year and we’re hoping to get a clean run at it.”
Meanwhile, a series of outstanding underage fixtures and Division Three matches still have to be scratched off the calendar before the new season begins.
There’s a number of semi-finals and finals still down for decision and Sludden thinks it’ll take about a fortnight to get it all sorted once the games recommence from May 7 onwards.
“For a lot of those lads, particularly at minor level, it could be their last chance to get silverware at youth level, and it’s important to get Division Three done and dusted so (Junior champions) Kildress and whoever comes out as league champions get promoted.
“That was the big aim, and hopefully the rest of the competitions will be played off in a fortnight. There’s some clubs with a few games to play still, the games will come thick and fast for them, and then we’re hoping to go again with the start of the youth season for 2021.”