Irish eyes turn to Chicago as Mayo looks to end Gaelic football curse
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For most Cubs fans, generation-spanning sports-related anxiety was joyfully exorcised with the end of a 108-year World Series dry spell. But for a small subset of North Siders — those of Irish descent, with roots in County Mayo — the Cubs’ World Series triumph has stoked anticipation of the end of another historic streak of futility.
On Sunday, Mayo’s Gaelic football team plays for the All-Ireland championship, hoping to end a 66-year run without winning the Sam Maguire trophy and break a curse laid upon the county’s footballers in 1951.
“Mayo fans are very much heartened by the Cubs. They think it’s Mayo’s time to end the curse,” says Sean Ginnelly, Mayo-born host of the weekly “Good Morning Ireland” radio show on WCEV-1450 AM and general manager of Curragh Irish Pub, who, like many North Side Irish has overlapping loyalty to the Cubs and Mayo. “I know people in this town, after the Cubs victory, who said, ‘Ah, now Mayo’s next.’ ”
A constellation of seemingly portentous events have turned Mayo fans’ eyes to Chicago since last year. A month after Mayo fell in heartbreaking fashion to Dublin in the 2016 All-Ireland, the Cubs broke their curse with a thrilling extra-innings win over Clevelend. Three days later, Ireland’s rugby team played New Zealand at Soldier Field and, for the first time in 111 years, defeated the All-Blacks in front of a heavily Irish contingent of fans.
“They were saying that if Mayo made it back to the [Gaelic final] this year, they should play the game in Chicago because that’s where all the curses are broken,” says Vinnie O’Hagan, a Mayo native who’s the proprietor of the Three Counties Pub on the Northwest Side.
The Dublin sports-betting website Paddy Power, known for trolling Irish sports fans on its Twitter feed, tweaked Mayo supporters at the start of the Gaelic football season in May with a sign on the side of a truck parked outside Wrigley Field with message from “Mayo, Ireland”: “Dear Cubs, any curse breaking advice? This is getting embarrassing.”
Lore has it that Mayo’s football club was cursed following its 1951 Gaelic title because the players failed to show their respect to a funeral procession as the team bus returned to Mayo. Whether the hex was laid on the club by a grieving widow or an indignant priest varies based on the retelling, but the curse was to remain in place as long as any player from the 1951 team is alive. Two players remain from the 1951 roster. And while Mayo has made it to the final match eight times in the ensuing decades, each time it’s lost.
O’Hagan figured that Saturday night mass ahead of the final would be crowded at parishes across a city in which 8 percent of the population claims Irish ancestry, with Mayo supporters aiming to free up their Sunday morning for the 9 a.m. start of the match and maybe get in a few prayers to upend the curse.
“There probably is no curse,” O’Hagan says. “But it makes for a good story. And maybe there is some truth to it. And when we win, it will be just like the Cubs.
“I don’t think there will be a lot of work getting done on Monday in Mayo. And I know a lot of folks in Chicago who are already taking the day off.”