GAA Football

Summer nights so good for Sludden

Niall Sludden takes on Mayo's Diarmuid O'Connor during Saturday's All-Ireland final. Picture by Seamus Loughran

IT wasn't so much the day that made Tyrone, but the night.

Conceding six goals down in Killarney has become the instant reference point for a swing in their season. 90 days after being beaten out the gate by Kerry, it was Tyrone who were All-Ireland champions.

The final question fired at Feargal Logan in the aftermath of Saturday's victory was about how much they had learned from that day's events.

“We had a great night, ironically,” he chuckled, as a smile made its way on to Brian Dooher's face too.

“It was just a six-goal mauling. That stripped everybody bare, including myself and Brian. You're as good as your last result and as good as your next week.

“That was June 12, it feels as if it was a year ago at this stage. It was a lesson in football and aggression and how to score goals. We were everywhere, all over the shop, and people were entitled to say ‘what's going on in Tyrone?'

“We were lucky it was a National League semi-final. We knew it wasn't the end of the world but it wasn't a pretty bus journey home the next day.”

Niall Sludden's form has been rejuvenated in this championship. Having not started a game in the National League, he muscled his way in for the Cavan game and has since displayed Allstar form.

He too smiled when the night in Killarney was brought up.

“Aye, the performance wasn't good enough but we said we'll go out and enjoy it. Sometimes those are the nights that make teams, that bit of unity.

“A pretty new team, a new management and that was a good night. We came back up the road with four weeks to prepare for Cavan. I think that was a big turning point in our season.”

Coming off shaking his head at Mickey Harte's decision to withdraw him during the second half of the 2019 defeat by Kerry was an image that threatened to bookmark Sludden's big days in Croke Park.

He had good reason to be annoyed that afternoon.

But Saturday was a wholly different affair. A goal-line clearance and two first-half points were the high points of another excellent display.

“It's unbelievable to get over the line. Strange game. It's just so surreal, bringing Sam back to Tyrone. The lockdown, the runs, the work, down in Killarney, the hurt from that – everything, it's just been a massive effort from everyone.

“There's been a lot of tough days for a lot of the team. We've all come off that field and gone into that dressing room on really tough days. You just have to stick at it and stay patient.

“To have won an All-Ireland is unreal. Looking into the crowd and seeing boys from '03 and '05 and '08, and getting messages on your phone from boys who have been there and done that, it's special.

“We looked up to a lot of those boys and we were at those games. It's a new team and we wanted to make our own imprint and be the best in Ireland – today we are, and we're gonna enjoy it.”

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