Sligo aiming to build on lessons from Mayo crash
Carew optimistic that confidence hasn't been seriously damaged by Connacht final wipe-out
Sligo manager Niall Carew offers an unequivocally honest answer when asked why the Connacht final turned into such a horror show.
"We tanked against Mayo - pure and simple. There's no other way to put it," he said.
Thirteen days after the 26-point wipe-out, he will lead Sligo against Tyrone in Croke Park on Saturday, still hoping that a quarter-final clash with Monaghan is an attainable goal.
It's a long shot (8/1 to be precise) but sport is all about the next game and a new opportunity. In Sligo's case, it's also about regaining pride after the Connacht final embarrassment, when they conceded 6-25.
The pressures facing managers of the leading contenders are constantly analysed but what of a man who has had to work on picking up a demoralised squad for another massive test?
"It wasn't that hard. We were devastated by how things turned out against Mayo, but our performance was so poor that it made it that bit easier to get going again.
"It can be hard sometimes to lift the mood when you know you've left a game behind, but everything went so wrong for us in the Connacht final that we've just got to put it down to experience and be thankful we have another chance so soon to show we're better than that," said Carew.
The clash with Mayo turned into the ultimate nightmare. Sligo were 2-3 to 0-0 down after six minutes, trailed by 4-9 to 1-6 at half-time and lost the second half by 2-16 to 1-5.
So how did it all go so horribly wrong for a Sligo team that delivered an impressive performance when beating Roscommon, recently promoted to Division 1, in the semi-final?
"We caved in completely after Mayo got the first two goals so early on. Our structure went, our patterns disappeared and with Mayo hitting one of those great days, we were torn apart.
"Mayo were unstoppable that day. Being realistic, we'd look on them as being a five or six points better side than us, so the hope was that we'd perform at our very best and they might drop a bit. The reverse happened.
"They did much the same against Donegal and Galway two years ago. They ran in big scores against both (4-17 v Donegal and 4-16 v Galway)," said Carew.
With the benefit of hindsight, would he have set Sligo up more defensively in the hope of restricting Mayo early on, while giving his own side, nine of whom were playing in their first Connacht final, a chance to settle down?
"Playing 12 or 13 behind the ball would have invited them to come on to us even more. It wasn't that we didn't have a good defensive shape but once we got caught for those early goals, everything fell apart. None of the things we did well against Roscommon happened this time. You have to set a team up to give yourself a chance of winning.
"It's easy to say afterwards that we should be a lot more defensive, but when you're hit for two goals in the opening minutes by a team like Mayo, you're in trouble," said Carew.
As the hopelessness of the situation unfolded in front of them, Sligo's work rate dropped, leaving it even easier for Mayo to reach the highest score of the Championship.
The two-week break has given Sligo a chance to regroup and re-assess, a process which Carew thinks would have been impossible if they had to play Tyrone last weekend.
"You saw it with Cork last weekend. There's no way of getting a provincial final defeat out of the system in a week. We've had two weeks and hopefully it's enough.
"One poor performance won't ruin it. We've looked at everything; we learned from it and we'll start all over again against Tyrone," he said.
Interestingly, Sligo beat Tyrone in the only previous Championship clash between the counties in 2002.
Mark Breheny and Seán Cavanagh are the only survivors from that Round 4 qualifier tie, which Sligo won by 1-14 to 0-12 in Croke Park. The defeat was followed by a change of management in Tyrone, with Mickey Harte taking in 2003.
The chances of a repeat success for Sligo look remote against a Tyrone side that, in what has been a consistent feature under Harte, doggedly fought its way through the qualifiers, beating Limerick, Meath and Tipperary.
While Tyrone may not be as formidable as Mayo, they will present Sligo with another massive challenge.
"Tyrone can change their system quite quickly and will often use two or three different ones in the course of a game.
"If you're not prepared for that, you're in trouble," said Carew.
Coming off such a big defeat in a provincial final makes Sligo's task all the harder, but it also presents them with a great opportunity to restore self-esteem.
"We know what's required to make sure we get the most out of own game. That has to be the starting point. We all know there's an awful lot more in this Sligo squad than we saw against Mayo," said Carew.