As Tyrone prepare for their first All Ireland Final in ten years, Dromore’s Niall Sludden talks about his memories as a young Tyrone fan, his admiration for the players that came before him, and how hard work and determination have helped this group of players forge their own path.
What are your memories of Tyrone’s All Ireland success from 2003 to 2008? Were you at any of the finals and what was your experience as a fan at that time?
I have very special memories of the All- Ireland wins from 2003 to 2008. Key moments stand out of course: Gormley’s block in ’03, Canavan’s goal in ’05 and Dooher’s point from the sideline in 08. I was at all of the finals thankfully and as a Tyrone supporter just being part of that experience was unique, and of course it helps when you’re on the winning side each time. I guess I was pretty young back then and some of the players on the team now were even younger. The fan experience was nail biting each time, but ended with pure joy when the final whistle went, and as a young player it certainly made you want to be there some day!
As a young footballer, were there any players from that era that you particularity admired? How did Tyrone’s success inspire you?
I guess each and every one of them were an inspiration to myself and other young Tyrone people around that time. There were so many Tyrone greats around from ’03 to ’08 that it’s too hard to name them all, but you always had that affinity to your club men and it was incredible that the same guys that coached you, or who you met in the street, were the same men playing for Tyrone in Croker. Ricey McMenamin and Colm McCullagh were two men I admired and very much still do! Tyrone’s success inspired younger players like myself to believe that we could be there one day and put on that jersey. They gave you special days out and set standards which as a young aspiring GAA player you wanted to aim for.
With very few players from ’08 still in the squad, does this Tyrone team feel like a continuation from that period, or a new team that is emerging and improving with its own style and personality?
I’ve been very lucky to have played with some past Tyrone players from those teams. As a young boy, you always dreamed of that, so for it to happen can feel quite surreal. But yes, I think every team has their own mark and identity and this 2018 team are setting their own path and direction. We don’t forget the people who have wore the jersey before us, some of whom are no longer with us, and we want to leave the Tyrone jersey in a good place for future generations. Mickey and the backroom team have always reminded us of the people who have worn the jersey and how privileged we are to be in the position we are.
Before big occasions like an All Ireland final, people will often talk about how “this is what all the hard work was for”. Considering some of the injury problems you had in the past, does this feel particularly special? Or do you try not to reflect on things like that, and just focus on the match in front of you?
I think we’ve all worked hard through the season and over the years to get into this position, and we don’t want to stop here. In terms of me personally, it’s something I haven’t really thought about, but if i’m thinking now, coming through obstacles like injuries and getting to places like this is great and it makes you appreciate that these opportunities don’t come about that often. It’s not just myself, a number of other boys on the team who have spent countless hours of rehab and needed a lot of dedication to be the best. We have to be thankful to those around us and the physios and medical experts who stayed patient with us and gave us great support.
How did it feel scoring that goal in the semi-final? Was it hard to settle yourself and concentrate on the remainder of the match without imagining the feeling that would come with the final whistle?
Of course it was a brilliant feeling when it hit the net, and I was just the man in the right position at that time. But once it went in – cue confused celebration – I quickly had to get switched on to the next kick-out because there was still plenty of time left. In Gaelic, as in any sport, you can’t dwell too much on what has just happened, be it positive or negative, because momentum can change so quickly. It can be easy to get caught up in the moment but my own experiences over the last number of years have taught me that you have to keep going to the very end.