Niall Sludden calls for Tyrone fans to match Donegal support in Ballybofey clash

Red Hands meet new Ulster champions in opening All-Ireland SFC clash in Mac Cumhaill Park

Donegal fans outnumbered their Tyrone counterparts at the Ulster SFC semi-final at Celtic Park 
Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Donegal fans outnumbered their Tyrone counterparts at the Ulster SFC semi-final at Celtic Park Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

Niall Sludden has called on lapsed and absentee Tyrone fans to get behind their team and bring the noise to Ballybofey for a second championship meeting with Donegal in the space of four weeks.

Red Hand supporters were strangely subdued and overwhelmingly outnumbered when the sides met in last month’s Ulster SFC semi-final at Celtic Park.

And with home advantage for the opening All-Ireland round robin clash with their north-west neighbours, the newly crowned Ulster champions will have a big presence once again on the MacCumhaill Park terraces on Saturday week.

“We need to get behind these boys and support them,” said All-Ireland winner and 2021 Allstar Sludden, who announced his retirement in January.

“What I would say to everyone, including the fans, is to have a bit of patience.”

Tyrone narrowly lost an extra-time thriller at Celtic Park, but Sludden feels the team is finding a way out of the cycle of inconsistency that has stifled performances since winning the Sam Maguire Cup three years ago.

“Consistency is a big thing and was over the past few years when I was there.

“They need to make sure that they bring it in the next game.”

The Dromore clubman has been involved in many crunch clashes with Donegal during an eight-year career with Tyrone, revelling in the joy of triumph at Ballybofey, and he feels another huge victory is possible.

“It’s obviously a tough game, but we have won up in Ballybofey before in big games, and I’m sure we can do it again.”

The Red Hands have been badly impacted by injuries, and while some established players have returned in recent weeks, others, including Conor Meyler and Frank Burns, have yet to play this season.

“We’ll hopefully get some of the older boys back in there.

“I’d like to thank that during the last couple of weeks we have been able to get a few more bodies back in around the squad.

Niall Sludden played in Tyrone's 2021 All-Ireland SFC semi-final win over Kerry but didn't feature against the same opposition in this year's All-Ireland quarter-final as the Red Hands were defeated by the Kingdom
Niall Sludden called time on his county career in January and says he has no regrets about stepping back at the age of 32

“They have blooded a number of young boys there, and we know the quality that’s in this county, with the U20s coming through as well.

“A lot of those younger boys have stepped up to the mark too, so I’m really looking forward to seeing them hopefully they can push on.

“We want more days out at Croker this season to go watch them.”

Sludden will be making his way to Ballybofey as a fan, still adjusting to the reality that he’s no longer a central figure on such big championship occasions.

But he has no regrets over his decision to step away at the age of 32, and grateful for the opportunity to now devote all his energies to the club for the first time in almost a decade.

“I have given number of years service, and loved it too, playing for my county.

“Going to the matches there recently I was a bit sad to be watching. You miss that buzz and being out with the lads, but I’m fully behind them.

“I’m totally devoted now to the club and to giving something back.

“They have given so much to me, and I want to give back I have a couple more years left in me, hopefully. I’m not getting any younger, but I believe I can still give a few more years.”