By Barry O’Donnell
AS they jetted off this week to earn due reward for their exploits in 2018, the Tyrone Senior footballers have already taken their first tentative steps into the new season.
An exotic team holiday break in far off Thailand is a million miles removed from a dark December night by the banks of the Foyle in Derry-but a wintry pre-Christmas Celtic Park setting provided the launchpad last Thursday for what the Red Hands hope will be another long and memorable campaign.
A facile nine point victory over Derry (0-20 to 0-11) leaves Tyrone in the box seat to qualify out of their McKenna Cup Section with home matches against University of Ulster and Fermanagh to follow in early January.
It was a largely youthful line up, though sprinkled with a number of seasoned operators, and one of those experienced campaigners Niall Sludden believed it had proved a worthwhile run-out.
“We saw a number of the new blood and a few of the older players who came back and performed well. It was a good start, a good performance and it finishes off 2018 in a good way. We just wanted to put in a good performance and we want to start off on a good footing.
” We got to the final last year, we have big ambitions and we’ve definitely boosted the squad. There’s 42 players there now and all good quality so I think the older players, the players have been about, know their places are under threat here.”
The Dromore ace pitched in with two points on the night, one of eleven different scorers for Tyrone. He was impressed with how the rookies performed.
“When you see Darragh Canavan coming on and getting his first score, wee Matthew Murnaghan, Liam Rafferty, I know I’m missing out a few others but there is great competition for places. Mickey has a tough job cutting down the panel!”
Last week’s match was the first Tyrone faced under the experimental rules introduced for the McKenna, and Sludden admitted that he wasn’t a fan in particular of the ‘3 handpass’ regulation.
“It was very difficult (to get used to the new rules) at the start, but we got used to it. It was very tricky and chatting to the referee out there, he’s scundered with it too because he’s counting the passes but he has to look at general play as well too.
“It does (impact upon the flow of the game) and players in my position in the half-forward and half-back line, if you get blown up you’re going one way, but then you’re going the other a bit like tennis really! It is hard and there is a bit of communication needed as well. I’m not sure if they’re going to last!”