Pieces of eight left only scraps for Cork's hurling and football teams

Pieces of eight left only scraps for Cork's hurling and football teams
John Miskella with Declan O'Sullivan in the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final. Picture:  INPHO/Dan Sheridan

RIGHTLY or wrongly (it is wrongly, and I say that as someone who has worn special mystically-powered jerseys to matches), sports fans – and players – can be a fairly superstitious bunch.

Waterford manager Derek McGrath is notoriously superstitious, Tipperary’s Brendan Cummins used to wear a very old Umbro Manchester United shirt under his goalkeeper jersey and, closer to home, Setanta Ó hAilpín also had a few piseoga, such as wearing a pair of Na Piarsaigh socks under his Cork ones.

How many of us have had the ‘championship haircut’, for instance? In 1969, Kerry captain Johnny Culloty had his speech written before the All-Ireland final against Offaly but, with the Kingdom trailing at half-time after a poor first half, he felt there was only one thing for it – the speech had to be torn up. Of course, Kerry went on to win.

Long runs without wins have to be ascribed to something supernatural rather than simply coming up against better teams.

A search of the Irish Newspaper Archive for ‘mayo 1951 curse funeral all-ireland’ in articles between 1952 and 2000 yielded 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 been lifted. Go back further, though, and apparently it was Galway hurlers who had been cursed by the herbalist, who apparently was a good woman who provided cures for people free of charge. Why she bothered cursing sporting teams, we don’t know – especially as she died in the 1870s, before the GAA was formed. Perhaps somebody confused the word ‘cures’ with ‘curse’?

Inevitably, Wikipedia has a page devoted to curses on sports teams and, superficially, it does seem as if there are a lot of droughts linked to damnations by various people. It’s just a bit too easy, though, isn’t it?

And now after all that logic and factual analysis, it’s time to get to the central focus of this piece – Cork won’t win any major honours next year, because years ending in eight haven’t been great for the county in the past.

None of Cork’s seven senior All-Ireland football titles have been won in an ‘8’ year (zero is the best for that, but even then the three wins – 1980, 1990 and 2010 are not spread out very evenly).

With only seven wins, a Sam Maguire in one of those years – 13 of them since the GAA began, coming every decade – is not that surprising, perhaps, but one would expect a better return than just two of the 30 All-Ireland SHC victories (1928 and ’78). Incidentally, four and six lead on five titles each and while eight is bad, it’s not the worst, with just one each in years ending in five (2005) and seven (1977).

Still, there have been five Munster senior hurling victories in years ending in five and four in years ending in seven, but just the same two – 1928 and 1978 – in the ‘8’ years.

The one area where there is an over-performance is in Munster minor hurling, seven wins of a total of 31, but none of the county’s 15 Munster intermediate titles were in years ending in eight.

It’s worse in football – zero of 11 in All-Ireland U21 football (zero of 26 in Munster), zero of 17 All-Ireland junior football (zero of 28 in Munster), one of 30 Munster minor football (admittedly, the All-Ireland was won that year, 1968) and three from 37 senior provincial wins.

Like we said, none of it is really admissible, but the wins in years ending in eight do seem to fall well below the law of averages.

Then, of course, you remember that 1988 was the year Michael Jackson played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and the proceeds of his two gigs helped the Cork County Board to buy Flower Lodge from the Ancient Order of Hibernians and turn it into Páirc Uí Rinn. How many All-Irelands has the availability of a second stadium like that been worth to the county board?

How Cork do in the Munster minor football next year is of course hard to say at this juncture, but, going on the past few years, Kerry would appear to be the favourites as they benefit from the development of strong underage structures.

If both counties win their quarter-finals, they would meet at the semi-final stage, with the winners of that expected to triumph in the final, but the defeated side out before the end of April.

Given that the Munster MHC is being run on a round-robin basis, it doesn’t seem fair that the footballers aren’t given the same opportunity for development rather than having everything riding on just one game.

Apparently, there wasn’t a huge appetite for a round-robin from Clare, Limerick, Tipperary or Waterford, with the theory being that there is a better chance of success if Cork take Kerry out or vice-versa, only one of the ‘old firm’ have to be beaten.

Obviously, in a round-robin, it would be harder for one of the other four to make an impact, but what’s more important, a championship once in a blue moon or giving games to young players and allowing them a greater exposure to high-quality football? The answer seems fairly straightforward from this point of view, but sadly it appears it’s not an opinion which is shared widely enough.

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