Killyclogher ready for ultimate challenge in Tyrone says Sludden

Killyclogher's league form in Tyrone has been impressive but Gabhan Sludden (right) feels they must carry that into the county's ultra-competitive senior football championship

THE challenge couldn't be any greater for Killyclogher – a Tyrone SFC first round meeting with champions Dromore – but a plan is in place, and full-back Gabhan Sludden is happy with the way the strategy is developing.

Strong league form has kept the St Mary's close to the top of the Division One table, just a point behind Errigal Ciaran, with a solid foundation constructed ahead of next month's O'Neill Cup opener.

Two more points were secured with a weekend derby win over Omagh, and confidence is building at Ballinamullan ahead of a sudden death tie that will define their season.

“We feel we can take anybody on our day, but I suppose other teams will say the same about us. I'm sure they're confident about us,” said Sludden.

“Look, league football is great, but everybody wants to be competing in the Championship, playing in those games, going to those venues, the likes of Carrickmore and Omagh under the lights.

“That's what we're here for, that's what we're playing football for and training nearly every night of the week for.”

The Tyrone Championship is notoriously difficult to win. Eight different clubs have been crowned champions in the past 10 seasons, and it's 17 years since the title was retained.

Sludden feels it remains as open as ever, and that Killyclogher must be considered among the leading contenders.

“It's the old cliché about the Tyrone Championship, how competitive it is, and everybody outside of Tyrone is talking about that.

“If you draw Dromore or any of the lesser teams, you're still going to get a tough game.

“If you have everybody fit and everything is going your way, you tend to get a good run at the Championship, and hopefully we'll get a bit of consistency over the next few games, keep injury-free and get a good run.”

Close family ties to the Dromore club makes the Championship clash with the St Dympna's somewhat personal for the 28-year-old defender, who will find himself in direct opposition to cousins and friends.

“It's going to be a tough one, and it's a close enough derby for myself.”

In the meantime, the pursuit of a League title continues, and with three rounds of games remaining, Killycloger are very much in the shake-up.

Experience players such as Tiernan McCann, Mark Bradley, Conall McCann, Danny Gorman and Emmet McFadden have blended smoothly with young talents, including Oisin McCann and All-Ireland U20 winners Michael Rafferty and Gavin Potter.

“We want to get the younger boys bled in, get game time into them and get those boys into that level of Championship football.

“We have three or four games left, and we would look to be getting maximum points out of them, winning every single game, and if that's enough to win a League, we'll take it.

“We've been good in the League, we have played well against big teams and played poorly against small teams.

“We're trying to get that bit of consistency through the League, that's what we have struggled with trying to get.”

A 1-15 to 1-10 win over Omagh brought a double boost in terms of local bragging rights, with Sludden holding Ronan O'Neill scoreless until the former Tyrone attacker grabbed a late goal.

“He's a hard man to mark. He runs around there and you don't think he's interested at all, and then you look over your shoulder and he's got the ball.

“Ronie has been about a long time, played a lot of football, won a lot of Championships and played a lot for Tyrone.

“He hasn't lost it, and he's still as good as anybody there.

“I have had a few good battles with him over the years. With the starred games I didn't see him for a few years, but he's back now and he's pushing it on for Omagh.

“He has a few good years left in him, so it will be good to see him for the next few years.”

It was highly competitive from start to finish, but the home side always held the edge, never relinquishing the lead they gained through Mark Bradley's early goal.

“They pushed us hard, and that's what you want a few weeks out from Championship.”

“We started very strong and got that lead very early in the first half, so it was just a matter of keeping that lead.

“I got caught out for a bad goal, made a mistake, and it kinda gave them a bit of momentum, they pushed us back to three, but big Hayes came on and thankfully got a couple of scores, and we pushed on, and seemed to have another gear to get back in front by six.”