By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
It’s all about the curse. That pesky curse.
It’s 61 years since Sam Maguire was brought triumphantly across the borders of Mayo and it’s all down to a spell cast on the county’s footballers. Possibly.
The story goes that a priest whose name no-one seems to remember or who never existed in the first place put the curse on the team. After winning their last All-Ireland in 1951, the team reportedly descended on Foxford while a funeral was in progress. Furious at the unwanted disturbance in the middle of the religious ceremony, he reached beyond the forgiveness and straight for the black magic. Mayo would not win another All-Ireland title until the last member of the victorious 1951 team had died.
Unlikely as the delving into the world of the supernatural, Mayo have upheld their side of the bargain and the drought has been unbroken for well over half a century.
The truth is there was never a curse. If the holy man had that sort of power, he would have surely used it to wish himself out of Foxford. If there is something strange afoot, it’s the supernatural ability of generations of Mayo men to freeze when in the bright lights of Croke Park around the middle of September.
This Mayo team may not have to turn to external forces to explain their shortcomings for much longer. Since the low of a 2010 qualifier exit at the hands of Longford and John O’Mahony’s resignation, James Horan has set about the long process of rebuilding. Except it hasn’t taken long. In his first season he guided them to an All-Ireland semi-final that not even the most deluded of supporters could have hoped for.
In just the second year of his reign, they find themselves at the penultimate hurdle and unlike 12 months earlier, they’re not just there for a day trip and building up experience for an unspecified point in the future. Mayo have a real chance.
Dublin’s performance in the quarter-final against Laois is the main cause for Mayo optimism. The performance typified the problems with the champions this year. It was sloppy and unconvincing – the GAA equivalent of a Fair City scene. It’s not the first time you could say that about the Jackeens this summer and when viewed alongside Mayo’s convincing defeat of Down earlier that same day, points towards the underdog having his day. There’s no shortage of takers for the 9/4 on offer for the Connacht champions.
Then again, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that this is exactly the way Pat Gilroy wants it. After almost every game this campaign he’s had to utter something along the lines of ‘if we play like that again, we’ll lose’. They generally have gone on to play like that again and they’ve hung on in there. Gilroy won’t be delighted with how much flat his team have been, but the lack of hype serves a purpose. Instead of building up the Dubs for their fall, the papers have focused on the gold and green whirlwind that’s moved in from the north. ‘Low key’ and ‘Dublin’ are words you don’t often see in the same sentence, but their form this season has kept feet on the ground.
The absence of Andy Moran is nominated as the major negative for Mayo’s chances of reaching their first All-Ireland decider since 2006. The return of Alan Brogan from the knock he picked up against Meath compounds the bad fortune. Dublin are rated as favourites for the game, but unlike other years, there’s no blithe dismissing of their opponents. That’s probably not the curse of events Mayo would have liked.