An incandescent padre, an unruly mob and one unshakeable curse
Curse: a solemn utterance intended to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something.
Former ABC journalist and podcaster-with-purpose Nance Haxton invited me to sit down with her last week and wax lyrical about the aches and pains of Mayo fandom from a distance, writes Stephen O'Grady.
So I waxed with the best of them, revisiting sunny days when I watched Jimmy Lyons and WJP from the Bacon Factory end of MacHale Park through to my first weekend in Australia in 2006 and finding my way to the Irish Club in Perth for a chastening reality check.
Quality journo that she is, Nance got me all warmed up. Then she moved in for the kill. The curse.
Nance, like most Australians with a passing interest in our latest date with destiny, doesn’t have any skin in our game. But throw in an incandescent padre, an unruly mob and one unshakeable curse, and suddenly we’re sucking diesel. I was grilled – well, chargrilled – about said curse.
Over here, the Aussies throw the curse word around like confetti at Scott and Charlene’s wedding. The Wallabies, apparently, must endure the curse of Eden Park. If they stare at the curse long enough, they stop noticing that the All Blacks are quite good at rugby.
Motor racing gun Jamie Whincup is supposedly cursed on Mt Panorama, the showpiece event of the supercar circuit. Old mate Jamie has won the Bathurst 1000 at Mt Panorama four times but because his last win was way back in – wait for it – 2013, he is cursed. To paraphrase Mick Dundee: “That’s not a curse, that’s a curse.”
Bringing it a tad closer to sporting home, the AFL (Aussie Rules) is not shy about invoking a curse.
Take the Kennett curse, when the loose lips of a club president doomed Hawthorn to a lifetime of anguish and defeat at the hands of Geelong. It lasted all of five years. Curse me arse!
A couple of weeks ago Essendon Bombers bowed out of this year’s AFL competition, going down to the Western Bulldogs. ‘Bombers curse continues as Dogs march on to semis’ screamed the headline. Curse? What curse? The Bombers are just not up to it since Conor McKenna took his leave for Tyrone last year. Get yourself back to Melbourne, Conor. Now!
And as for those Bulldogs, well back in 2016 they broke through to qualify for their first grand final since 1961, which they won in a thriller. In the week before the game, my mate Hamish – a Geelong fan – came knocking, looking for a catch-up lunch which turned out to be more of a royal commission into curses and sport.
The Bulldogs had not misbehaved at any funerals in the 1960s but because 61 rhymes with 51 the curse was invoked. The Age ran a great yarn about the Bulldogs which focused primarily on Mayo and the curse. Why let reality get in the way of a good curse story?
But the trouble with curses down here is they’re a little undercooked. The examples laid out above really don’t hold water when pinioned to a craggy rock on Achill’s western coastline on a November night. If you are going to invoke a curse, you’ve got to have famines and tears, own goals and bouncing balls of the Colm Coyle variety. A bona fide curse implies pain. It stirs fear of what’s in store. It screams fate like three witches warming their palms over a fiery barrel.
If I was still living in Castlebar, I wouldn’t be buying into any such talk of curses. But I’m on the other side of the world, and middle age is melting my mind.
So I touch base with my most trusted Foxford confidante and she tells me ‘a strong belief’ exists in the town about the events surrounding the curse. She tells me the parish records show no funeral in Foxford Church that day yet her 87-year-old mother says it is very possible a funeral passed through the town that day.
So you wonder, don’t you. You begin to look for signs. I was born in 1970, it is 70 years since we last won it. I’m 51 and we last won it in 1951. Probably just a mathematical quirk. Or maybe it’s a sign, like the green and red chili we pulled from our Brisbane garden patch in the days before the semi-final. Or the two snakes – sweets not pythons – my mate Andy pulled from a bag last week, one green, one red. Or the colours of an umbrella raised at an underage rugby league game, or the familiar look of a man in the library or…
Stop it, O’Grady! Breathe. We don’t need signs. There is no curse. All we need are a few good men a little like Paddy Prendergast. And we have them.
Stephen O’Grady is a former journalist. He attended Ballyvary Central School and St. Gerald’s College, Castlebar. He played for Parke and Davitts GAA clubs.