Tyrone will begin their 2024 season on Sunday afternoon when they host Donegal in the McKenna Cup. However, for the first time since 2016, the Red Hand management will be unable to call upon the services of Niall Sludden who has decided to call time on his illustrious Inter County career.
The Dromore clubman had been an integral part of the Tyrone team since making his debut against Queens in the McKenna Cup in 2016 and went on to make 116 appearances for the Red Hands scoring 7-92 in the process. He first came to prominence in a Tyrone jersey back in 2010 as an attacking halfback on the Minor side that won All Ireland honours defeating Cork in the decider.
He went on to win three Ulster Senior medals, but the highlight of his career came in 2021 when he played a key role for Tyrone in securing their fourth Sam Maguire Cup success with victory over Mayo. His displays that season won him a deserved All Star award. Niall admits that he thought long and hard about the decision to retire and admits that it was always a dream to play for Tyrone.
Speaking to the TTM website Sludden said, “It was a very tough decision to make to be honest. I discussed it with Brian, Feargal, my family and some former players and they all said the same thing. Take your time and make the right decision. You are a long time retired. During the club season and shortly after it I thought it was perhaps the right time to bow out. Having mulled it over I’m happy enough and content that I have come to the right decision. I’m happy that I don’t have to do all that preseason training!”
“Growing up it was always my ambition to play for Dromore seniors and that led to a chance to play for Tyrone which was always a dream of mine. I remember going to Tyrone games in places like Clones with my family and my dad. Watching players like Colm McCullagh and Ricey (Ryan McMenamin) from Dromore and thinking that maybe someday I would be able to do that.”
“I was privileged to have played over 100 games for Tyrone. That’s something that I’m proud of. It was great to chip in with scores along the way and all from play!”
Niall helped Tyrone win back-to-back Ulster titles in 2016 and 2017 and twelve months later was part of the team that reached the All Ireland Final only to lose out to the all-conquering Dublin side. It was a setback, but they learned lessons in defeat and reached the Holy Grail three years later.
“A lot of people will tell you that you have to lose one to win one, but the boys were determined to win that one in 2018. Dublin were a serious outfit but we still believed that we could do it on the day. It was obviously a blow to lose that one.”
“When we did get over the line in 2021 it was just unbelievable. All the hard work and sacrifices that you out in with the lads. It was all worthwhile in the end.”
“We were so driven to do it and it was just so special for everyone. Going back to the local primary schools after it and the buzz around the county made you think this is what you do it for. Not just for yourself, teammates and family, but for all the supporters both young and old.”
Niall’s retirement comes on the back of a similar decision taken by Ronan McNamee. With Conor McKenna’s professional career still blooming in Australia it means that three starters from the 2021 All Ireland winning side aren’t available to Dooher and Logan anymore. Despite that, Niall feels that there are promising days ahead for Tyrone again.
“I would like to hope so, that’s where you always want to be. It’s a squad with plenty of young players coming through. They are a very talented bunch. You only have to look around the club scene in Tyrone to see the potential, but the hard work of course has to be done. I’m looking forward to sitting back now and watching them and hopefully they will have a number of big years ahead”.