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Reeling in the Years: A Tale of Sporting Curses

By Sam Curtin


As the full-time whistle went on September 11th, Tyrone claimed Sam Maguire for the fourth time in their history and their first since 2008. Mayo were consigned to their eleventh straight final defeat since 1951, the last time they claimed Sam.

The story of that occasion has been well documented, the famous ‘curse’ that has plagued Mayo fans since the day allegedly the team driving home, interrupted a funeral, to the outrage of the priest who declared that the county would not win an All-Ireland again until all of the team had passed. While this is probably the most famous sporting curse in an Irish context, there have been many other stories throughout the world where teams facing similar droughts have had to endure such stories passed down from generation to generation. Hence, what are some of the most interesting pieces of folklore? 

Clare Hurlers

Another famous GAA curse to begin with. ‘The curse of Biddy Early’, who was a healer and suspected of witchcraft actually died ten years before the foundation of Clare GAA in 1884. Yet her name has still been mentioned across all generations of Clare supporters. The story goes that the Clare team of 1932 (58 years after Biddy died) would be the last to win a title until the next group were all bachelors. 

This may seem quite peculiar for a number of reasons, however the end of this story is quite striking. Clare endured decades of misfortune and near misses until 1995 when they finally broke the glass ceiling as they went onto win not only Munster but the All-Ireland for just the third time in their history. The most interesting part was that this team were nicknamed the ‘bachelor boys’ as none of them were married. Therefore, although the back story may make little sense, it did ultimately come to pass.

Australian football team

Not a particularly well-known one but a fascinating story nonetheless. Seven straight failed qualification attempts, all at the play-off stage. These failed attempts were blamed on a witchdoctor in Mozambique whom the Socceroo’s failed to pay while on tour there in 1969.

What’s particularly fascinating about this story is that in 2005, famous Australian comedian John Saffron went back to Mozambique to find an antidote to the curse. He ended up making a documentary ‘reverse the curse’ about the experience which involved ceremoniously having chicken blood poured over him by a witch doctor. Sure enough, Australia successfully defeated Uruguay in a play-off to be on the plane to Germany in 2006 and ended up making the last 16.

Boston Red Sox

Our final story is one of the most famous sporting curses of all time. It comes in baseball where the curse of ‘the bambino’ has haunted Boston Red Sox fans for decades. On December 26th, 1919, the Red Sox decided to sell their beloved Babe Ruth, known as “Bambino” to their arch-rivals, the New York Yankees. Prior to this, the Red Sox were the most successful team in baseball but this all changed. The Yankees went on to win four World Series with Ruth while the Red Sox would only appear in four and lose each one. One infamous incident included a ball rolling through one of the player’s legs in Game 6 of the 1986 series which cost them the championship.

Many efforts were made to break the curse, including a search for a piano which Ruth allegedly tossed into a pond outside Boston. Even an exorcism took place outside of their home stadium, Fenway Park. It was ultimately on-field results that broke the curse in 2004, the Red Sox played the Yankees in the penultimate round before the World Series where they became the first team to win after coming from 3-0 down before going on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals to end the 86 year drought. The Cardinals, short stopper (same position as Ruth) wore the number three shirt, which was Bambino’s all those years ago. Coincidence?

These stories are just a flavour of those passed down through the years. As for Mayo? There are two medal winners left and the glass ceiling has yet to be broken. Could there be an antidote in the form of a witch doctor or is it simply a case of not being good enough?