Sligo will invoke the spirit of 2002 as they strive to redeem themselves against Tyrone at Croke Park today.
Thirteen years ago Sligo, then managed by Peter Ford, registered a 1-14 to 0-12 win against the Red Hand in the qualifiers and were later denied a place in the All- Ireland semi-final when losing to champions Armagh after a quarter-final replay.
Sligo captain Mark Breheny and Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh, who holds the county’s record for most championship appearances, are the only survivors from that day.
Redemption has to be Sligo’s target after their Connacht final capitulation to Mayo when Aidan O’Shea scored 3-4 as the winner racked up 6-25.
Sligo boss Niall Carew isn’t hiding from the fallout of that provincial final hammering.
“The biggest thing for us is we have to put things right that we didn’t put right in the Connacht final. Coming in under the radar – or off the radar – doesn’t make a difference to us because we still have to get out and put these things right. All of that stuff (being underdogs again) is completely out of our control and will have no effect on our performance.”
Carew continued: “We want to win the game but redemption is only good if you win. We want to play to our full potential which we didn’t do in the Connacht final so if we can do that we just hope that the result will follow.
“All the things we got so wrong were in our control, it was not as if Mayo did these things well. There was a lot of stuff as well that was out of our control but we need to improve on those areas.” Sligo don’t employ outright defensive tactics such as the infamous blanket defence and, even if they did, it would take months to perfect.
Carew maintains that there were some defensive elements of their game that went missing against a powerful Mayo outfit.
“We have a defensive strategy but we didn’t adhere to it and that was the biggest problem. When you don’t utilise what we have been practising, then that is what will happen.
“Every system has it’s flaws, but they are exposed very easily if you don’t work hard and get them right.
“We put all the pressure points on Roscommon but we didn’t do it against Mayo. And when you don’t do it against bigger teams you will be punished big time.”
Carew remains wary of the threat Tyrone can pose even if relegation from Division One of the Allianz Football League blunted their year.
An early Ulster exit was followed by three wins in the qualifiers and they’ve been boosted by this year’s All-Ireland U21 success.
“The likes of Sean Cavanagh, Mattie Donnelly and Peter Harte are still very important players and they have All-Ireland U21 winner thrown into the mix as well.
“We are playing a team who are going to put us in serious trouble if we don’t play to our potential.
“Momentum is a great thing but you only have it when you win and it is up to us to stop it. There is no better way to stop that than hard work and our mantra is just to work and work and work.
“We are lucky that we had two weeks to prepare. The biggest thing for us is to focus on ourselves, play as well as we can and work hard for the 70 minutes.”
He and the players have had to absorb the lessons of the Mayo loss – the biggest ever losing margin in a Connacht final – and then move forward.
“You can’t ignore it [Mayo defeat], but you certainly can’t wallow in it.
“You have to go and learn from it and we’ll know against Tyrone whether the players have learned or not – and I believe they have.
“We all had a good look at ourselves, we all got it wrong and you can’t point the finger at one person – collectively we didn’t do ourselves justice.”
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