Sean McGoldrick: Mayo’s Sam Maguire ‘curse’ has no basis in fact
After nearly 45 years in this business I didn’t think there were many new experiences to savour. But I managed two in the space of a couple of hours in Sligo last weekend.
I witnessed New York play a championship game, and I got locked into a GAA ground.
In 2014, I watched a New York selection in action against a Boston XV in a curtain-raiser to an All-Star game in Canton at the Irish Cultural centre in greater Boston on a bitingly cold November evening.
I remember it because it was the filthiest football game I’d ever seen. At one point a US-based former Donegal inter-county player walked off the field. I suspect he feared for his safety.
It was much more civilised in Markievicz Park last Saturday as Sligo ended New York’s interest in the 2023 Connacht championship without having to stretch themselves.
I was about to leave having done the obligatory post-match interviews and filed my reports when news broke that former GAA President Dr Mick Loftus had died.
On the spur of the moment I opted to stay in the warm press box and write an obituary on the last surviving member of Mayo’s 1951 All-Ireland winning squad.
By the time I was finished everybody had left, and all the exit gates were locked.
Within 15 minutes of making a couple of phone calls the ‘man with the keys’ had returned and the ‘Leitrim One’ was free and hitting the N4 on the long drive back to Dublin.
On the journey home I reflected on the life and times of Dr Mick Loftus, a man of principal and integrity who was warm, friendly and sociable on a personal level.
In 1986 in his capacity as GAA President, Dr Mick led the Irish delegation on the inaugural Compromise Rules tour to Australia.
It was a three-match series with ‘test’ matches taking place in Perth, Melbourne and Adelaide. Under the management of the late Kevin Heffernan, Ireland won a bruising series 2-1.
During the tour, a match between the sport journalists covering the trip and GAA officials took place during which Dr Mick demonstrated deft touches, 34 years after he was a substitute on Mayo’s All-Ireland-winning team against Meath.
Never once during long chats on that trip did he ever mention the infamous Mayo ‘curse’.
Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge the so-called curse was never alluded to after Mayo lost to Cork in the 1989 final or after they lost to Meath (after a replay) in 1996, to Kerry in 1997, 2004 or 2006, or to Donegal 2012, or to Dublin in 2013.
It only gained currency in the second half of the last decade, when Mayo lost finals to Dublin in 2016 (after a replay) and again in 2017 after an epic encounter.
The story behind the ‘curse’ is now integrated into folklore.
A priest in the Mayo village of Foxford alleged the 1951 squad disrespected a funeral while on their victory journey through the village. He was supposed to have said the county wouldn’t win an All-Ireland again until the all the players had passed away.
Ultimately, the story went global.
By the time The Guardian newspaper published their version before Mayo’s last All-Ireland final appearance in 2021, it had been upgraded to include a direct quote from the priest: ‘For as long as you all live, Mayo won’t win another All-Ireland.’
There was a major flaw, however, with the story.
There is no record of a funeral in Foxford on the day the Mayo squad passed through the village with the Sam Maguire Cup in 1951. So, essentially, the story had no basis in fact.
A couple of weeks after Mayo lost that 2021 final Paddy Prendergast, the last surviving player from the 1951 team passed away. Dr Loftus’ death last weekend means there are now no survivors from the squad alive.
Curses are nothing new in the GAA.
Every Clare hurling fan heard about the Biddy Early curse and failure of Galway hurlers to win an All-Ireland for decades was attributed to another phantom curse imposed by another priest.
Galway’s Liam MacCarthy Cup win in 1980 and Clare’s Munster championship success in 1995 put paid to all the nonsense about curses.
The Mayo curse is a myth, too.
It may well have provided some kind of psychological comfort to Mayo fans desperate for a reason to explain why they can’t win the Sam Maguire Cup.
Mind you, the believers will probably still insist it cannot be disproved because there are no survivors left.
One wonders though what excuse will the fans proffer if Mayo lose their next All-Ireland final.
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