DUBLIN — Whether they even reached the postseason — let alone the World Series — this year’s Red Sox squad has been the toast of New England.
Given the good vibe coming out of Kenmore Square since early April, I’d like to ask Hub fans to spare a thought this morning for the afflicted followers of County Mayo, whose Gaelic footballers suffered a 1-point defeat last month in the All-Ireland Final at the hands of their big-city rivals, Dublin.
The reason for my request is a simple one: Like Bosox fans in a previous life, Mayo supporters have been waiting a long time for championship success.
Since the autumn of 1951, to be precise.
Admittedly, 62 years is small potatoes compared with the four score and six seasons of disappointment and regret the Fenway Faithful had to endure before a glorious playoff run in 2004 delivered a lasting redemption. Still, six decades is stretching it.
Plus, there is a celebrated jinx associated with Mayo’s championship drought, albeit one not nearly as dramatic as The Curse of the Bambino. Back in 1951, the story goes, the team’s triumphant return journey through the county passed through a village called Foxford while a funeral was taking place. This so incensed the presiding priest that he issued an ominous proclamation, vowing that Mayo would not win another title until all the members of the offending team had passed on themselves.
(For the record, three members of the 1951 starting team remain. One of these gentlemen, Dr. Padraig Carney, has lived in the United States for several decades. He returned to Ireland to cheer on his native county in the recent title-decider, and on a TV show leading up to the game, Carney, now 85, appeared hale and hearty. So the curse on Mayo football looks to continue indefinitely.)
Despite these parallels, however, Mayo’s agony is special in ways that no Sox fan could possibly understand.
First, there is the geographical remoteness of the county. Situated in Ireland’s often stormy northwest corner, Mayo’s untamed landscape is a tourist’s dream destination. But if you’re a native it can be a different story. The Celtic Tiger was an infrequent enough visitor during the boom years. In more recent times, Mayo has been haunted (once again) by emigration, with many of her sons and daughters — accompanied by their own offspring — departing for Australia, England, and Canada.
As a result, many local Gaelic sports clubs, which feed the county’s All-Ireland squad, have been forced to consolidate their youth teams in order to survive. Had Mayo’s footballers beaten Dublin last month and taken home the Sam Maguire Cup, their success would have greatly lifted the morale of these clubs, and the county’s spirit generally.
The heartbreak of Mayo fans is exceptional for another reason: Their team has been a regular title contender over the past two decades. (If you are a Mayo supporter — or know one — look away now. The following string of statistics is likely to rip your heart out.)
Mayo’s footballers won consecutive championships in 1950 and 1951, but they didn’t appear in another final until 1989. Since then, however, they have contested seven All-Ireland Gaelic football “Super Bowls,” and lost them all. Like their last championship run, four of Mayo’s defeats occurred in consecutive years, 1996-97 and 2012-13.
If the Red Sox had appeared in seven World Series over a recent 24-year period and come up short each time, even Stephen King’s imaginative powers couldn’t have dealt with the darkness that would have descended on New England.
So Sox fans, the next time you visit Ireland, take a detour up to the northwest of the country. The landscape and hospitality of the people will reward you, but more important, you’ll be able to deliver a vital message to Mayo fans: Keep the faith!