Tyrone tyro Niall Sludden looks an old hand

He has played just one championship game, but Niall Sludden looks like he’s made for the big time.

Tyrone tyro Niall Sludden looks an old hand

Bristling with confidence, this is a young man with the perfect temperament for the modern game.

An ice-cool debut against Derry last month heralded the arrival of yet another exceptional Red Hand talent, a player equipped with a fully developed skillset and the versatility of a seasoned campaigner. But it’s his confidence and self-belief that set him apart from scores of youngsters who annually take nervous first steps into the world of inter-county football.

Sludden’s first appearance at a media briefing at Garvaghey was a masterclass. The 23-year-old, fielding a barrage of questions from the media pack, declared his readiness to take on responsibility and play a central role for Tyrone.

“Over the last few years I haven’t really had a steady position. I’m just happy to play anywhere for the team,” he said. “But I like slotting in at number six. You feel that you have got extra responsibility. Even though I’m new myself, I’m happy to take on those greater responsibilities.”

The Dromore man was a perfect fit in Tyrone’s highly organised defensive system as they dismantled the Oak Leaf challenge at Celtic Park.

Feeding off the guidance of experienced players such as sweeper Colm Cavanagh, he quickly settled in to turn in an assured performance.

“It’s great for me, especially as a new player coming in there. Colm is a massive leader, and he’s always communicating, talking especially to the younger players.

“It’s very reassuring to have him there and to call on his experience. But I like to keep him right as well. That’s important too, because we’re always learning.”

Pre-match nerves weren’t an issue for a player who repaid the faith of boss Mickey Harte with a performance which earned rave reviews. “It’s the place I want to be. It was great. I wasn’t nervous that much. I thought I would have been. The way the game went, I slotted in effectively to the team,” he said.

“It’s very nice, from a personal point of view, to get appreciated, but I’m old enough now to know that football is a very fickle game as well, and I’m very much concentrated on the next game against Cavan, so I just want to perform for that as well, if I get the chance.”

Sludden will meet many old adversaries in Sunday’s Ulster Championship semi-final at Clones.

As an U21 player, he came up against Cavan during a golden era for the Breffni County, winning four provincial finals in a row, two of them against Tyrone.

“It was two in a row that I lost out, but that’s long gone now to be honest. It was tough to take around that time, but you just have to move on. Cavan deserved their wins.”

And in his first year in the senior squad, he has faced Cavan twice already in the National League. “We came up against them a few weeks ago, and we know them very well, we know what to expect from them. It’s going to be very tough, it’s going to be physical and it’s going to be a battle, but we like that as well.”

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