By Niall Gartland
GALWAY in Tuam hasn’t proven the most straightforward of tasks for Tyrone in recent times, but forewarned is forearmed and Niall Sludden is looking forward to Sunday’s third round league meeting.
It was a rotten day all round as Tyrone were dismantled by Pádraic Joyce’s side in early 2020 on a scoreline of 2-25 to 0-12, with a season-ending injury to Cathal McShane rubbing salt in the wounds.
Two years prior, Galway – then under Kevin Walsh – edged out a significantly closer contest on a scoreline of 1-9 to 0-8, but it’s not exactly a happy hunting ground for this generation of Tyrone players.
Casting that aside, Galway have a number of high-profile absentees at present including Damien Comer, Rob Finnerty (both injured) and Shane Walsh, who is taking time out after his club campaign with Kilmacud Crokes recently came to an end.
Tyrone stalwart Niall Sludden isn’t paying much heed to that type of talk, however.
“Teams are now starting to get players back. They haven’t had their full hand, but I’m sure the week off will see them get players back.
“We know what to expect. We have been down in Tuam a couple of times and taken big batterings, so we really want to reverse that.
“We know it’s not going to be easy, obviously. They were in an All-Ireland final last year.
“We have stuff to still work on and improve on, and we’re looking forward to see can we keep going and keep it on an upward curve.
“The last game we went down to Connacht, we didn’t get the win, so this time we definitely want to be going down there and putting in a performance.”
It’s the start of a particularly demanding run of fixtures with Mayo (in Castlebar) and Kerry (in Omagh) next in line for a Tyrone side that got up and running a fortnight ago with a fine win over Donegal. Sludden acknowledges it’s a period that could come to define their league season.
“Brian and Feargal have said that these next couple of weeks are going to be massive, but that’s what you enjoy, the big challenge.
“We have got Galway, Mayo. Kerry, the All-Ireland champions. We know Mayo have always been there or thereabouts as well.
“It’s exciting, we know it’s going to be tough, but we’re looking forward to it, focusing on Galway first, and then take it from there.”
Reflecting on their confidence-boosting victory over Donegal, Sludden said their determination to make amends for their opening day defeat to Roscommon was evident from the opening whistle.
“I thought we did a number of positive things. We were a lot more aggressive in the tackle, and even moving the ball that bit quicker as well.
“And we were a lot more physical around the middle.
“I know going down to Galway its always going to be a physical battle, so there were a lot of positives there.
“I know Donegal were a bit under-strength, so we don’t want to be getting too carried away.
“It’s one win out of two, so we still have a lot of improving to do.
“We knew that we needed a response after the last couple of games, so it was great to go out and do that.
“You could see that from the word go we were determined.
“People were saying things from the outside, but we just concentrated on what was going on in the inside, training well, training hard.
“They’re tight games, and one day you can look really good, and the next day you might not look as good, so I think we’re long enough in the business to keep our feet on the ground, keep working.”
While accustomed to playing a starting role for Tyrone down the years, Sludden has been largely confined to a substitute berth in the early stages of 2023. He’d love to be picked for the first 15 but he’s conscious of the competition for starting jerseys in the squad.
“I’ll take whatever jersey they give me, and I’m going to be pushing the lads on.
“But you have got to remember that there’s loads of other boys who want those jerseys too, and it’s just a case of waiting and being ready for your opportunity.
“There’s lots of boys coming back from injury and not even in the panel of 26. So I’m conscious of that as well, so I’ll just get the head down, and if the chance comes and Feargal and Brian give me the opportunity, I just need to be ready, like a number of the other lads as well.
“Whatever chance I get, I’ll just try and make an impact.”