His manager is certainly no fan of the ‘mark’ but Niall Sludden thinks it is helping the game evolve for the better.
Tyrone boss Mickey Harte believes the trend towards longer kick-outs has come about because teams are pushing up and forcing goalkeepers to kick the ball out the field, not because the ‘mark’ is promoting high fielding.
Regardless of why it’s happened, Sludden, renowned as one of the speedsters in the Tyrone side whose transition game makes him a huge threat, feels it is helping his game.
“The game is evolving and we’re enjoying the way it’s being played. One kick and that defence is opened up.
“It’s nice. You’re getting that link pass coming into you and you’re in a lot more dangerous position, getting the head up.
“We always would have worked on long kick-outs anyway and if someone caught the ball you were told to play it quick.
“You’ve seen over the last number of games, it was very beneficial.
“If you’re moving the ball quick, opposition teams can’t get set up as quick and it leaves more opportunities for goal chances.”
The Dromore player, an All-Ireland minor winner in 2010, has alternated between centre half-back and centre half-forward in his senior career and is equally comfortable in both positions.
They are trying to win back-to-back Ulster SFC titles on Sunday and if their spectacular nine-point semi-final victory over Donegal is anything to go by, they are tweaking the game-plan as they go.
It remains to be seen how expansive or defensive they will set up against Down at Clones but Sludden will be at the heart of every orchestrated move.
“The modern game is about breaking down the massed defence and you can’t be keeping men behind the ball all the time, but you need to protect the house as well.
“You’d have been more used before to getting that pass and seeing a sweeper or two, and trying to play an eye-of-the-needle pass.
“When you’re getting that ball in space and you have corner-forwards like Darren McCurry and Mark Bradley and Ronan O’Neill and Sean Cavanagh, it’s a matter of getting the ball in and make sure they do the damage on the scoreboard.”
Tyrone’s forwards have been criticised for being goal-shy, not just this year, but several years.
Aidan McCrory and Peter Harte were the only players to hit the net during their Division One campaign while another defender, Tiernan McCann hit a scruffy goal against Donegal.
It’s a line of questioning that’s becoming a source of irritation when put to Tyrone players these days, and Sludden is no different.
“The last game we created a number of goal chances and our finishing wasn’t up to scratch.
It’s not something that worries us. We hit 21 points the last day, and the day before that we hit 22. If we win by scoring points, I don’t think we’ll complain.”
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