While rumination on the efficacy of curses is no longer regarded as cutting edge analysis, slightly more respectable is the idea Mayo are labouring under some fatal psychological flaw that is continually preventing them from reaching the mountain top. What else explains seven successive All-Ireland defeats?
The bar-room analyst’s favourite charge — ‘bottler’ — is, sadly, never far from the conversation with Mayo.
Favoured for its thoroughgoing abusiveness, the ‘bottler’ label doesn’t just impugn mere sporting ability. Rather, it establishes the target as an all-round windy weakling who could barely be described as a man at all.
Regardless of Mayo’s form, their squad of players, or their performance in that year’s Connacht championship, such experts tend to be blithely confident Mayo will not be winning the All-Ireland — “certainly not this year, anyway”.
There is an alternative analysis for why Mayo have lost so many finals in the past quarter of a century. Fair warning — it is a touch left-field. Namely, that in every one of those finals, they have face a team who were slightly, or significantly, better.
In pretty much every final since 1989, Mayo have entered the game as underdogs. Only in 2013 (and perhaps 1997, where they underperformed), did they enter the game with most pundits giving them an almost 50-50 shot.
The traumatic circumstances underpinning the loss in 1996 inspired a kind of revision, whereby it was retrospectively established Mayo were the better team going in but frittered away victory through psychological frailty (a point strengthened by John Casey’s failure to attempt a shot in the final minute). Never mind that Meath repeatedly came from behind against Dublin and Kildare and nearly reeled in an even more intimidating second-half deficit against Down in 1991.
Liam McHale asserted during the week that Mayo were a superior team to Meath in ‘96, though glancing at both forward lines, this is debatable.
This column’s case is that Mayo are not hobbled by psychological weakness or inferiority complex. Rather, they have consistently met slightly better teams in deciders and been a bit unlucky.
As for the bottler charge, surely the last 10 minutes of yesterday’s game make a mockery of that lazy slur.
Bad cess to the curse of Mayo failure
In this new age of scientific rationalism, where every top team boasts, as Pat Spillane would have it, “dieticians, statisticians and sports psychologists”, the case surely no longer needs to be made that a 64-year-old curse is what is holding back Mayo.
Joe Brolly is particularly insistent that there is no curse on Mayo.
“It’s not curses, it’s crap defending,” he said repeatedly. Quite who is pushing back against this contention is a mystery.
Arguing against the curse of ’51 hardly marks one out as a heroic contrarian these days.
It’s a folk song conceit, fluff piece flim flam, bar-room slagging. It’s Up for the Match analysis.
There is scarcely a county in the country that isn’t afflicted by some curse or other. The famous Biddy Early, a one woman curse machine, didn’t even discriminate between counties and was blamed for sabotaging the hurlers of Galway and Clare.
Planting a curse of this nature would have required an astonishing degree of foresight, not least because she died in 1875, nine years before the foundation of the GAA.
No doubt, there are still club teams labouring away in that region whose long wait for a county title is the fault of her witchery. The woman must have done little else in her 74 years other than plant hexes on hurling teams whose gib rubbed her up the wrong way — or whatever passed for hurling sides back in the faction fighting era.
But the point of such stories is that they are part of folk memory, they do not exist to be seriously deconstructed or dismantled.
Curses are a staple of American sport. The Boston Red Sox 86-year wait to win the World Series (at that rate, Mayo will have to wait until 2036 for an All-Ireland — coincidentally the centenary of their first) was the fault of the men who sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.
The mania for curses has yet to penetrate the Premier League in a big way. It’s a pity.
It remains a minor miracle that no one in the Liverpool region has come forward with a story of how a priest in the area smited the Liverpool side in 1990.
We don’t want good games, just close ones
The consensus at half-time was that yesterday’s game was a messy affair, blighted by Dublin’s frank cynicism in defence and Mayo’s lethargic attacking play.
By full-time, it had transmogrified into a classic, a game for the ages, one to send you trembling with gratitude towards the exit, delighted there was going to be a round two.
It seemed to attain classic status on account of nothing more than being close at the end. Certainly the second half was no less marred by unsightly rugby tackles.
This column has admitted it took sadistic pleasure in Kerry’s comical, but also startlingly impressive, humiliation of Kildare in the All-Ireland quarter-final - a game that was blasted as everything that was wrong with Championship 2015.
Kerry’s outrageously stylish football in the second half turned few heads. It is contests people want. What this year has proven most of all is that perhaps we value drama more than sheer quality.
The free-taking goalies’ annus horribilis
Traditionalists can only but rejoice at the annus horribilis endured by free-taking goalies. At the start of the year, they appeared on the verge of taking over the game.
The appalling vista was glimpsed in the first round in Ulster when Cavan selected a midfielder in goal, purely on account of his free-taking prowess — which deserted him on the day like it has so many other marksman goalies this summer.
The great Stephen Cluxton had a tough day yesterday, marked by sloppy kick-outs (many of which seemed to fall shy of the 21 and yet went unpenalised) and one incident where he almost allowed Andy Moran in for a three-pointer.
The cherry on top of the thoroughly inedible cake was the last-minute free he blazed wide.
Give the frees back to the corner forward, the purists are saying.
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