GAA Football

Tyrone's Niall Sludden firing again ahead of Monaghan challenge

Tyrone's Niall Sludden celebrates scoring a goal in the 2018 All-Ireland SFC semi-final against Monaghan.
Picture Seamus Loughran
Francis Mooney

Niall Sludden has rediscovered hunger and found his form.

Unusually obscure through a League campaign spent on the fringes, a handful of substitute appearances suggested he may have slipped outside of the automatic choice category for Tyrone.

But all that changed during an intense few weeks of pre-Championship reflection and renewal as the Dromore man gave it everything in pursuit of the sort of involvement that has defined him as a footballer.

Recalled to the starting line-up for Tyrone's Ulster SFC opener against Cavan, an influential performance meant he retained his place for the semi-final clash with Donegal.

No longer a peripheral figure, the all-action playmaker is once again central to Red Hand plans as they prepare for Saturday's Ulster final clash with Monaghan.

"I'm enjoying my football again at the minute and I want that to continue.

"I feel my game is coming into the right place at the right time at the minute.

"I'm just happy to be back in the team and contributing," he said.

"It took a lot of patience, for there's a lot of competition around the squad, new management in too.

"But I know what I'm capable of, I have a lot of self-belief too, as of course do other players."

Competition for places has intensified with the return of key players from injuries, but Sludden's versatility and effectiveness anywhere around the middle third help him offer options when it comes to team selection calls.

"I'm happy to mix it anywhere, but wherever I'm put, I'll try and do my best,

"Half back, half forward line, coming from deep, getting around the park and playing my part, if I'm given that kind of role where I can roam and get on the ball and make turnovers," he insisted.

That central area promises to be a ferocious and crucial battle-ground at Croke Park against a Monaghan team laden with players who relish the scramble for loose possession.

It's one of many intriguing aspects of a provincial decider that, while unlikely to offer any surprises, could contrive an unlikely hero or an unexpected match-winner.

"We know each other very well. Monaghan are a great side, we saw last week they were hitting a lot of goals, they have a lot of pace, good attack and defence, and obviously Beggan in nets too, a bit weapon for them," Sludden said.

"They're a formidable team, and they have a strong bench as well.

"We know a lot about them, they know a lot about us, and it's going to be a good game.

"Every team has particular strengths and weaknesses. If you give Monaghan any chances at all, they're really going to punish you.

"It's very much up to us to bring our game and focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day, that has been helping us in the last couple of games."

Donegal's second half goal, along with recurring memories of the six that Tyrone shipped in the League semi-final against Kerry, have flagged up concerns over defensive security.

It's an area that they have been working on as they continue to work on the process of transition towards a more attacking strategy.

"I don't know if there's concern, but definitely we have got work to do.

"It's something that we have to improve on, runners coming from deep, it's probably been a bit of a trend.

"We need to cut that out, because Monaghan have been showing in their games, and in their League games as well, that they're hungry for goals, and when they get their eye in, they're very hard to stop.

"So we need to be on our game, especially in Croke Park, and making sure that we track runners, but we'll be prepared for that."

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