Tyrone's Niall Sludden hoping to keep smiling as Cavan test in Croke follows Carlow trip
NIALL Sludden hopes that Tyrone have already had their Championship "kick in the teeth" but that was only one reason he was smiling broadly on Saturday evening.
As a primary school teacher, he was asked if the imminent end of the school year or the ultimately comfortable qualifier round two win over Carlow was why he was grinning: "Both - and the sun's out as well, hopefully that's going to continue.
"It's definitely because of the win," he confirmed. "We knew what we had to do coming down. It's never an easy place to go but we were convincing near the end. We just wanted to be in the hat on Monday and there we are."
The latest draw pitted them against Cavan, but redevelopment work at Kingspan Breffni Park means the venue has been switched Croke Park this Saturday with a 5pm throw-in.
The 26-year-old Sludden and his Red Hand colleagues will hope for at least one more trip after that to GAA HQ this summer, which would be secured by beating the Breffni Blues and then one of the losing provincial finalists in round four.
He's happy about the prospect of match after match, weekend after weekend, from now on, insisting: "Winning breeds confidence. We're used to runs of games in the League.
"I know over the last two years I've been involved we went through Ulster and we didn't really get the kick up the teeth until the semi-final or quarter-final and then that was it, you're over. We've had our kick in the teeth and hopefully we can push on and build on that. We'll be planning again in training [tonight]."
Sludden scored Tyrone's first goal in Dr Cullen Park, pulling them well clear, although he rightly gave credit to team-mate Peter Harte, whose jinking, dummying solo run set up the simple palmed finish in the 48th minute: "He could have put it in the back of the net but that's the thing about Petey, he's very unselfish. Cathal [McShane] was there on his other side, he could have passed to him, but I was just lucky enough to get on the end of it. It was a good score to get, it put us nine points in front, and we pushed on from there."
Carlow stuck at it, getting seven more scores after that compared to four from Tyrone - but two of those also found the net, to Sludden's delight: "Once you're in the lead - especially against a team like Carlow, who can sit back - we could control the ball a bit more and it was great to get three goals in the second half as well, because goals are something that we haven't been getting lately."
Sludden himself played until the hour mark despite picking up a booking with just over a minute played. He was able to laugh about that, even though the match official has been sore on him in the past, giving him a highly-criticised black card against Mayo in the League last year:
"Ah well, I don't know if I deserved a yellow card - I suppose me and Conor Lane have a bit of history there. But we patched it up in November when we met as part of the International Rules tour. He was over there and we had a bit of banter, a bit of craic. He said it probably wasn't a black card. But it was one of those things, these things happen, that's definitely in the past. It's nice to have a bit of craic with the referees, you have to enjoy your football too.
"We knew it was going to be very physical, they're a very strong side with powerful runners, but I think we matched them and then our quality paid off in the end."
Carlow also represented decent preparation for tougher tests ahead, Tyrone hoping that plural is correct with Ulster rivals Cavan next up: "A lot of teams are going to be like that, especially when we turn them over, they're going to be well set-up and organised. Maybe not as defensive as Carlow were there but it was a good challenge. We know it's going to be a step up again, with each round the quality of the teams coming through increases...
"It'll be a lot tougher. But we're looking forward to it and with each win you're building momentum. The good thing is you can see the squad there, a number of boys stepping up again to the plate, Tiernan [McCann] is coming back from a suspension, there'll be a few coming back from injuries, so the squad is getting stronger, we feel it building. It'll be great to have the county behind us again too."