NIALL SLUDDEN: '˜We have slowly built a head of steam each game'
Niall Sludden has been a key player on the 'forty' in Tyrone's run to their sixth All Ireland senior football final and the Dromore clubman will have a pivotal role to play again if the Red Hands are to dethrone four-in-a-row chasing Dublin in the showpiece at Croke Park this Sunday.
As was the case in both 2005 and 2008, Tyrone have taken the scenic route to the final and Sludden feels that they have improved as they have gone along and says that the strength-in-depth is crucial.
“I don’t think too many people would have predicted that we would reach the All Ireland final after losing to Monaghan in the opening round of the Ulster Championship, although I have to say within the group we are always confident and it was a case of game-on-game,” he said. “We have slowly built a head of steam each game and when you look back to the game in Meath people would have said that we wouldn’t get too far as we were taken to the wire that day.
“It’s funny how momentum builds and it’s great to be in the position that we now find ourselves in.
“The depth of the panel has really been tested and that is why you need a strong squad of players.
“We have been using our squad throughout the games and you can see the impact that the bench is having and that is very important because it keeps the players in the starting 15 on their toes as well.
“We have picked up a few injuries along the way but you are always confident that the boys who come in are going to do a job.
“That is something that you maybe don’t get when you are going through the Ulster route but the qualifiers path has certainly seen a number of new boys introduced and they have stepped up, especially in key moments in games.”
While Tyrone were impressive in beating Donegal in the Super 8s, they just about did enough to get over the line in the semi-final against Monaghan at headquarters and Sludden knows that it will take a massive display to beat a Dublin group who are widely acknowledged as one of the best sides ever to play the game.
“We were naturally disappointed with our performance against them in last year’s semi-final but I don’t think that will have any bearing on this weekend’s game,” he said. “We just didn’t bring the intensity levels to Dublin at all but we have moved away from that and it is now 2018 and we are in the final and anything can happen in a final.
“We are just working towards the final and producing a better performance on the day and against Dublin it is going to have to be our best performance if we are to win.
“It’s very close to the game now and we are all really looking forward to it as this is what you play Gaelic football for and is why you are out in January and February and doing the hard training sessions in the rain and the muck.
“We have always wanted to be still in the championship at this time of year and, thankfully, we are now.”
The final will throw in at 3.30 on Sunday at Croke Park.
Galway and Kerry meet in the minor final from 1 o’clock at the Dublin venue.
Cork match official Conor Lane will referee the All Ireland senior football final.
Sean Hurson from Tyrone will officiate in the minor game between Kerry and Galway.
The match will be shown live by both RTE and Sky Sports.