World of Sport

Mayo God help them – Will Ireland’s greatest sporting curse end on Sunday?

World of Sport

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In Irish sport there is nothing quite like winning an All-Ireland title for your county.

This Sunday, Mayo take on Dublin in the Gaelic Football final. Tickets are like gold dust and changing hands for up to €5,000 (£4,215) on the black market. People are flying from all over the world to watch the game and 82,500 people will pack into Croke Park for the contest.

Despite this frenzied interest, the people who create all the drama – the players – won't earn a cent for their blood, sweat and tears.

GAA sport remains completely amateur; all the money that will be raised for the occasion will be ploughed back into the sport – spent on pitches, clubhouses and other projects around Ireland.

There are no transfers in this sport, no signing-on fees, contract disputes or agents – you are born in a county and that's the team you play for. Fans cheer neighbours. Local heroes become national stars.

Sunday will be quite the occasion…but poor Mayo will lose.

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…That is if one of Irish sport's most famous folk tales is to be believed!

Let's rewind back 62 years to year 1951. Mayo had just beaten Meath to win their second successive All-Ireland title and their players had the right to feel a bit cocky and to celebrate.

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1951 Mayo captain Sean Flanagan with the Sam Maguire Cup (You Tube)

They were kings of the county, and they all climbed onto the back of a truck to parade the famous Sam Maguire trophy around the towns and villages of Mayo, which lies on the West Coast of Ireland right next door to their fierce Connacht rivals Galway.

The whole of Mayo seemed to be in a state of jubilation and enjoying the day except for some sad mourners in the town of Foxford who were attending a funeral that day.

Legend has it that as the Mayo party truck rumbled into Foxford, the local priest was so incensed by the lack of respect shown by the celebrating players towards the funeral that he decided to do something about it.

'The Curse' was born.

Mayo have played in six All-Ireland finals since that fateful day in Foxford – they've lost all six of them. Most years they haven't even got close to the final at all.

'The Curse' that the priest is said to have cast, stated that Mayo would never again win an All-Ireland title until every member of the 1951 winning team had passed away.

The good news for Dublin fans? Three of members of that side - Paddy Prendergast, Fr Peter Quinn and Padraig Carney - are still alive.

Mayo's latest defeat in an All-Ireland final came only last year when they were beaten by Donegal. They also lost in 2006, 2004, 1997, 1996 and 1989.

You could call them the Jimmy White of Irish sport and the snooker star certainly would have plenty of sympathetic ears if he ever went for a pint in Castlebar.

This year though, instead of bemoaning the curse and approaching the final with dread, Mayo seem to be tackling the issue head on.

The current priest in Foxford, Fr. Padraig Costello, checked the parish records and found that there was no record of a funeral ever having even taken place on that now infamous day 62 years ago.

"There doesn’t seem to be any basis in the curse story," he told the Irish Mirror, but 'to be sure, to be sure,' (as they don't say in Ireland) he still gave a blessing to the current team at the spot of the original alleged crime.

Andy Moran, the current captain of the team and also a member of three of the teams that have lost finals in recent years, has also laughed off the curse.

"I worked with kids visiting schools last year and they were telling me about the curse," he told BBC Northern Ireland.

"It's all bit of fun. But the reason I've been in three All-Irelands and haven't won any of them is because we haven't been good enough. It's as simple as that."

Irish television channel TG4 even broadcast a documentary about the curse just last week called 'Mayo God Help Us' which included interviews with Carney and Prendergast from the '51 team as well as players from more recent sides, fans, priests and pundits.

In their previous six finals, Mayo went into the decider as underdogs with the bookmakers. That is the situation again this time around but not by much.

Paddy Power currently have Dublin priced Evens with Mayo at 11/10…a close, tight match is expected by all.

And the people of Mayo seem to think this is finally going to be their year. Songs have been written, support is being show in places as far and wide as the Camp Nou to disused factory towers in Melbourne, and one pub in the county has even found a unique way to 'take the p***' out of final opponents Dublin.

There will be some party if the county can end 62 years of hurt on Sunday and finally bring the Sam Maguire Cup home.

But Mayo God help them if they don't!

Seán Fay (@Sean_Fay)

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The cover of the programme for Sunday's game

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