Niall Sludden: ‘it wouldn’t have been possible to play last week’

An added bonus sees Tyrone Under-17s appear in curtain-raiser before Kerry match

Tyrone’s Niall Sludden celebrates after the Ulster final win over Monaghan. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Tyrone’s Niall Sludden celebrates after the Ulster final win over Monaghan. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Niall Sludden says it would have been physically impossible for Tyrone to face Kerry last weekend, but they’ll give it a mighty go in Saturday’s rearranged All-Ireland SFC semi-final.

Covid chaos in the Tyrone camp led to two postponements of the meeting of the Ulster and Munster champions, with one player hospitalised, several more testing positive for the virus, and others self-isolating.

“Because of the disruption and everything it wouldn’t have been possible to play last week,” said Sludden.

“With a lot of boys coming back, just gradually being eased in, and with the return to play protocol as well, it has been very hard.”

Versatile playmaker Sludden managed to avoid the virus, but first hand accounts of the toll it took on his affected team-mates caused him grave concern.

“I was ready, but in terms of the team and the squad, it wouldn’t have been fair.

“You put all that time in, doing the runs and different things over the lockdowns, I’m happy that we’ve got this opportunity to have the whole squad back and for everyone to get a chance.

“It’s an All-Ireland semi-final, obviously massive and a big day, so I’m delighted for the rest of the lads.”

With as many as half of the squad members testing positive for Covid-19, training sessions cancelled and the All-Ireland series plunged into uncertainty, the outlook was bleak at certain stages.

“I have been lucky enough in that I stayed away from it, but I know, from family issues and things, that there have been a lot of cases about, even around the squad. It has been disruptive for everyone, but we have to get on with it.

“I was lucky with the way that I go to training, but a lot of other boys had it and had to isolate as well.

“It has been hard, but we’re fortunate that we have got the extra week, and it’s nice to be going in to Saturday, and we’re all looking forward to it.

“It’s been disruptive, but these things are out of our control, and we’re looking forward now to the match on Saturday, and hopefully a big Tyrone crowd down to cheer us on, and we’ll give a good account of ourselves.”

On the road

Tyrone are on the road again, and an added bonus sees the county’s Under-17 team appear in the curtain-raiser, the All-Ireland minor final against Meath.

A double success, according to Sludden, would bring a massive lift to the county.

“It would be brilliant for the whole county and for everyone in general. It’s fantastic, there’s a great buzz around the county, and with the minors there as well, it’s great for the people of Tyrone.

“It’s been very tough for everyone these last number of months. So with the minors and ourselves, if we can give a lift to young and old, and people who are sick, and maybe watching from home.

“There’s a big prize for ourselves and the minors, so we’ll be doing our very best to make sure we can get into that All-Ireland final.”

But all the Dromore man’s focus will be fixed on the mammoth task of finding a way to take out the Sam Maguire favourites.

“We know Kerry is an unbelievable team and they’ll completely blitz you if you give them time, as we saw ourselves down in Killarney in the league, and in the All-Ireland semi-final a while ago (2018).

“So we know the challenge, it’s a massive challenge and they’re obviously massive favourites.

“After Dublin going out, they’ll probably be seeing themselves as big favourites for the All-Ireland.”

The league semi-final was one of Tyrone’s darkest days, when they shipped six goals to a rampant Kingdom side in Killarney.

“I’d like to think that since that day in Killarney, and even the All-Ireland semi-final, this team has taken lessons from that,” Sludden said.

“It’s up to us now to show that we have learnt from it, and show it on Saturday. We’re very aware that it’s a massive challenge, but this is where you want to be, to test yourselves.

“There’s only three teams left now in the competition and we’re one of them, so hopefully we can put those lessons that we’ve learned and give a good show.

“We can’t be conceding the amount of goals that we conceded, or giving away the ball, because you’re going to be punished.

“We need to make sure we bring our A game on Saturday.”

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