One of sport’s longest-standing curses has held true again this weekend as Mayo suffered another All-Ireland senior football final defeat, extending their drought to 70 years since their last triumph.
This time it was Tyrone who broke Mayo hearts, winning in the All-Ireland senior football championship thanks to two second-half goals, 2-14 (20 points) to 0-15 (15) in the final at Dublin’s Croke Park on Saturday night.
Curses play an inextricable role in sporting mythology, with curses such as the Boston Red Sox’s curse of the bambino and the Chicago Cubs’ curse of the billy goat playing major roles in those teams’ histories — and the Mayo curse is well worth its place among them.
The story goes that after beating Meath at Croke Park in the 1951 All-Ireland, a jubilant Mayo team travelled home to the western province of Connacht on the back of a truck, celebrating the whole way.
While passing through the village of Foxford though, the players passed by a funeral that was taking place.
The local priest apparently took a dim view of the players continuing to celebrate while the funeral was taking place, placing a curse on the county.
“The story goes that the priest said, while any member of that team lives, Mayo will never again win an All-Ireland,” Paddy Prendergast, the sole survivor from that team told Irish TV channel TG4 in 2017.
“There was supposed to have been a funeral in the local church … I don’t know whether there was or not — there were people standing around the church.
“But we didn’t get off the truck because we couldn’t get off the bloody truck.”
“I don’t believe it at all,” the now 95-year-old said.
However, the evidence continues to stack up.
A history of almosts for Mayo
Mayo first endured a 38-year All Ireland final drought, not reaching the September decider again until 1989, when they lost to Cork by three points.
That was the first of 12 finals, including replays, that Mayo have now lost in increasingly desperate ways.
In 1996, Mayo threw away a six-point lead to draw with Meath, including a freak point that bounced over the bar in the final minute of the game.
They lost the replay by a point.
The following year they were beaten by Kerry, a team that would also thump them in their next two finals appearances in 2004 and 2006 by 8 and 13 points — the widest losing margin in 28 years — respectively.
Mayo lost to Dublin by just one point in 2013 and then conceded two own goals in a draw against the same in 2016.
The replay in 2016 and the 2017 final were both won by Dublin by a point. Last year, the Dubs did it again, beating Mayo by five points in a final held in December without crowds due to COVID.
Having handed Dublin a first championship defeat since 2014 in this year’s semi-final — ending their historic run of six titles in a row — Mayo must have felt their chance had come to finally end the curse.
Final a story of lost chances for Mayo
The Mayo men made a brilliant beginning, kicking their first shot over the bar for a point within 15 seconds of the start.
Five minutes in, they were two points to the good after being converting a free kick.
Tyrone quickly got on the board, however, and by the eighth minute of play — Gaelic football matches are played over two 35-minute halves — they were level, and by the 10th minute, they were ahead.
As it turned out, they never trailed again.
The first key moment that gave cause for an icy shiver of fear for Mayo fans came 15 minutes in.
The men in red and green attacked the Tyrone goal, getting a ball over the top to Bryan Walsh, who opted not to kick first-up but waited and ended up having his shot blocked.
It came free and fell to his teammate Conor Loftus, but the Mayo man tried to place his shot and had it blocked on the line by Tyrone’s Niall Sludden.
The teams swapped points for most of the half, but with Tyrone staying a step ahead.
Tyrone had a chance to blow the game open on the half-hour, but when Darren McCurry was put through, his shot was deflected wide by goalkeeper Rob Hennelly.
Mayo was unlucky not to be given a penalty for a foul close to goal – at half-time they were 0.8 to Tyrone’s 0-10.
The men from the west came out after half-time and turned the screw on Tyrone, attacking repeatedly.
But forward Tommy Conroy missed a golden chance when he pulled his shot wide four minutes into the half.
Then almost immediately, Mayo were given a penalty for a foul in the goal square.
Mayo fans dared to hope. Ryan O’Donoghue gave a stutter-step run-up that fooled the Tyrone goalkeeper, but with the goal virtually open, his shot curled to the right and clipped the post to go wide, prompting a full-blooded roar from the Tyrone fans in the stands.
Within minutes, Tyrone made them pay with a goal from Cathal McShane.
They led by four points, and as an increasingly desperate Mayo side continued to waste chances, time began to tick down.
The killer blow, when it came, had a link with AFL. With 11 minutes to go, Conn Kilpatrick took a huge grab and sent Conor McKenna — who last year finished six seasons with Essendon — upfield.
The speedy player drew a defender and passed over the top to McCurry, who batted the ball into the net to leave Mayo despondent.
When referee Joe McQuillan finally blew the whistle after nearly eight minutes of added time, the Mayo players crumpled to the turf in misery.
O’Donoghue was inconsolable over his missed penalty and the fans in the stands were left heartbroken once again.
It was left to Tyrone skipper Padraig Hampsey to have a moment of glory, lifting the Sam Maguire Cup for the fourth time in the county’s history – before the rest of the team got to take their turn.
Melbourne hoping to end Norm Smith curse
With all this talk of curses, there’s an example much closer to home that is begging to be overcome in the next fortnight.
On September 25, Melbourne will be hoping to banish a curse that has dogged the team for 57 years when they take on the Western Bulldogs in Perth.
The Demons’ curse goes back to the decision in 1965 to part ways with legendary coach Norm Smith, who led the team to the last of their 12 premierships in 1964.
Melbourne has not won an AFL premiership since then, despite twice reaching the final.