Sport

DENIS HURLEY COLUMN: So, how long must we wait until a Cork curse appears?

April 23rd, 2020 9:34 AM

By Denis Hurley

The legendary Babe Ruth, also known as The Bambino, was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in 1918.

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YOU might have noticed that, in certain quarters, the rise of Covid-19 is being blamed upon the advent of fifth-generation mobile phone technology.

There are no proven links to the coronavirus and 5G, but that hasn’t stopped conspiracy theorists from jumping to conclusions. Last weekend, a mast in Donegal was set alight, following similar incidents in the UK.

Just in case you’re wondering if you’ve found your way into the science section by accident, don’t worry. The bottom line of the 5G-hate is that, when something bad happens, people need to find a scapegoat and it’s no different in sport.

Teams that go a long time without success tend to be associated with curses which prevent them from picking up prizes. For example, the death of former Mayo star Pádraig Carney last year brought the usual one-liners.

Carney, given the moniker of the ‘The Flying Doctor’ as he was practising medicine in the US and was flown home for the 1954 national league final, had been a part of the side to win the All-Ireland in 1950 and 1951, the latter famously being the last of the county’s three titles. The Swinford native was one of two surviving members of the 1951 team, with Paddy Prendergast now the only remaining player from that side.

The 1951 team has notoriety now because of an apparent curse placed on them. The story goes that they celebrated a bit too boisterously, so much so that a funeral in Foxford was disrupted and a priest declared that Mayo wouldn’t win Sam Maguire again until all of the team had died. As a result, a few comedians on social media felt it best to mark Carney’s passing but wondering aloud about the status of the curse.

The Irish Newspaper Archive (www.irishnewsarchive.com) is far more reliable than Google, in that it actually searches for the words you type rather than giving you the answers it wants. If you visit the site and search for ‘Mayo 1951 curse funeral All-Ireland’ in articles between 1952 and 2000, it yields exactly zero matches. If indeed the curse existed, it was only spread by word of mouth.

When Clare won the 1995 All-Ireland hurling, we were told that the Curse of Biddy Early had lifted. Three years before that, the herbalist – who apparently was a good woman who provided cures for people free of charge – was being blamed for the Clare footballers struggling to make a breakthrough, when any right-minded person might have felt it was down to the presence of Kerry and Cork.

Go back further and apparently it was Galway hurlers who had been cursed by Biddy. Why she bothered cursing sporting teams, we don’t know – especially as she died in the 1870s, before the GAA was formed.

We can assume that the curses are little more than folklore, but they linger until the team in question do actually go all the way. Then, of course, they are simply forgotten.

For instance, nobody in Boston ever complains about the ‘Curse of the Bambino’ anymore, though for a long time it was considered the main reason why the Boston Red Sox couldn’t win baseball’s World Series.

Having won five titles between 1903 and 1918, the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920 and wouldn’t get back to the top of the tree until 2004. Naturally, the sale of such a star was blamed, though not until 1990, when a book raised the possibility of the curse existing. This is another important factor to bear in mind – as well as the successful teams seemingly never being cursed, it’s only when the unsuccessful ones have had a long run in the doldrums that a curse is unearthed.

What happened in 2004 to sort the Red Sox again is unclear. Of course, it could just be that decades of mismanagement and under-performance were bigger factors than a curse and a decision to ape the ‘Moneyball’ approach of the Oakland Athletics helped to bring about a change in fortunes.

Thankfully, in Cork, we haven’t had the massive droughts that bring about such talk, but with the wait for Liam MacCarthy going on 15 years – and 16 if this year’s championship doesn’t materialise – how long before a reason is reverse-engineered?

Similarly, the Cork senior footballers haven’t beaten Kerry in the championship since 2012. By pure coincidence, it was that same year that this newspaper appointed a Kerryman as sports editor. We’re not telling you what to think, but you can draw your own conclusions.

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