BY CHRIS MCNULTY
FOUR players from the last Mayo team to win Sam Maguire are still alive.
Of the men who took Sam west in 1951, Paddy Prendergast, Fr Peter Quinn, John McAndrew and Padraic Carney are the survivors.
Their’s was a team that thrived; their retention of this island’s biggest prize in 1951 should have been the beginning, not the end. Sam hasn’t belonged to Mayo since.
The legend goes that the victorious Mayo team was making its way back when they passed a funeral in Foxford. The sight of the celebrating footballers angered the local priest of the time.
He unleashed his wrath and declared that Mayo wouldn’t win Sam again until all members of the team were deceased.
Haunted by the supernatural, the myth is rolled out every time Mayo reach the Jones’ Road. By the old canal last weekend, they almost surrendered in total collapse and by the end of the semi-final against Dublin it was only by the very tips of their fingers that they were hanging on.
The Irish love their tales of the mythology of curse and superstition.
Even in Kerry, there are the tales of those who are overcome by the piseoga. Paidi O Se was ready to leave Kerry in 1982 for the All-Ireland final when he was stopped by a red-haired lady. To this day he considers the meeting to have been bad luck: Offaly’s Seamus Darby’s goal the following day won the All-Ireland.
A dark magic was at work, he believed. It wasn’t that Darby had conjoured up some magic of his own, but the defeat was blamed on a force greater.
Jim McGuinness believes in weaving his own magic – and the Donegal boss will entertain no talk of Mayo’s curse in finals.
Indeed, the Glenties man insists that James Horan’s men are a dangerous opponent because of the hurt they carry.
“They lost All-Ireland finals and are carrying that pain. I lost a lot of Ulster Championship finals and so are some of the players – we carry that pain too. All of that is coming together,” said McGuinness.
“James Horan has brought consistency so we know what has gone before they will bring to the final, in terms that they will deliver on the day.
“Rising above that is the challenge for us. Can we implement what we’re working on in training when we get to the final in the face of what Mayo will bring to the game? No-one will know that until the game starts.
“They have been there or thereabouts in National League over recent years, they have a very strong tradition and there was no apprehension in Mayo going into the Dublin game.
“There was no fear of the Hill, no fear of Dublin and no fear of Championship football.
“They are very comfortable about what they’re doing at the moment and that will be the same against us.
“There aren’t a lot of teams that can do that so, from that point of view, I consider them to be big hitters.
“They aren’t fazed by not winning an All-Ireland in X number of years.
“They’re a very driven group and they feel that they’re on a mission. We feel that we’re on a mission as well, but only one team can get over the line. It will make for an interesting match.”
McGuinness has turned Donegal’s water into wine since his appointment to the position of manager in the summer of 2010.
As the final draws closer, McGuinness says that it’s important for his side to focus on what they’ve done up to now. It’s why the routine stays the same.
In his tenure, Donegal have played more League and Championship games in Croke Park than they have in Ballybofey’s Sean MacCumhaill Park.
“That is a very big plus for this group of Donegal players,” McGuinness told the Donegal News last week.
“We take confidence from the fact that we know the stadium and that we know the staff in the dressing rooms.
“They already have the drill done for the trip up and the morning of the match.
“It will be the same meeting the night before the game and meeting the day of the game as we have had before. We won’t be pulling magic rabbits out of hats to inspire or motivate this time.
“The fact that we’re in Croke Park fairly regularly now anyway should mean that we’ll be freed up to perform on the day.”
Mayo’s men of ’51 have long since made a call for the talk of curses and jinx to cease – but until they finally recapture the Holy Grail the whispering cloud will continue to surround. McGuinness has mythology of his own to contend with – like Rory Kavanagh’s eight dinners a day; or his team’s 12 collective training sessions a week.
“Ah, the mythology of Donegal football…” he smiled and sighed at a press call last Tuesday night.
The legend of curse and ghosts is a rich part of Irish heritage – and it has a place in the corner of the GAA too. Mayo folk are laden with the curse of the Foxford priest and the Clare hurlers only lifted the ‘curse of Biddy Early’ in 1995 when they won Liam McCarthy for the first time in 81 years – that their manager of the time Ger Loughnane hailed from Feakle, Biddy Early’s home place, only added to the fascination of it all.
The Galway hurlers, too, had been haunted by an apparent cursed inflicted upon them when they left Mass early one day to go to an All-Ireland final. They went from 1923 to 1980 without a title and that spell was littered with heartbreak.
In 1992, Donegal won for the first time in Croke Park with a semi-final win over Mayo. It was the day the golden jersey with green trim became a permanent fixture in the county – it was the day the ‘Croke Park jinx’ was buried.
If there was any truth to lingering hoodoos with the Galway hurlers, Joe Canning’s late, late free to send yesterday’s All-Ireland hurling final to a replay buried those.
And all that’s in Jim McGuinness’s mind, is that his men can show those same guts as did the Portumna ace yesterday when he sent the sliotar over the Hill 16 crossbar in the dying seconds to give his side another chance.
McGuinness said: “I’ll believe in anything if we can win the All-Ireland!
“I just want a big performance out of them. Once you get that, you have to make peace with the result.
“It is a massive chance for them – hopefully they can grab it with both hands.”