Oakleafers

There’s a curious, yet seemingly satisfying obsession with sporting curses across the world. A lot of them are mindless nonsense, obviously, but they provide a convenient excuse for certain teams’ inability to succeed, and more importantly, they give comfort to fans during the darkest hours of fandom.

God knows, we Derry fans need comfort from somewhere.

US sports love a sporting curse

Sport in the United States seems to hold the monopoly on this sort of thing – at least in Western civilisation. You may have heard of the ‘Curse of the Bambino’, that prevented the Boston Red Sox baseball franchise from winning another World Series title following the sale of star player Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920. They finally reversed the curse when they won the 2004 World Series.

The two professional baseball teams in Chicago – the Cubs and White Sox – are the apparent victims of a similar curse. While cities such as Cleveland, Buffalo and San Diego put their lack of major success in the main US sports leagues down to curses pitted against their teams.

There are famous GAA curses too

Thankfully, here in Ireland and in the world of Gaelic Games, we are not to be outdone.

The curse of the infamous Biddy Early gained traction in 1995 when Clare came out of extinction to win the All Ireland hurling title. The so-called witch was said to have afflicted a curse on the Banner county, which of course, had explained their hitherto championship famine.

What other reason could there have been? (NB. Don’t read too much into the fact that Biddy died in 1872, twelve years before the GAA was even formed.)

A few miles up the road in Mayo, they nurse the issue of “the 1951 team”. This one is still relevant. Mayo won successive Sam Maguire’s in 1950/51 and in celebrating the latter they allegedly failed to respect a nearby funeral cortege.

Not a good look.

The local priest is believed to have cursed Mayo to never win another All Ireland Final. Legend has it that the county won’t win Sam again until every member of that ’51 side is deceased. Following the death of Fr. Peter Quinn at the beginning of this February, just two players are still alive.

But there’s another GAA-related curse that has had little or no coverage in the last couple of decades: the top-level Championship curse that Galway has over Derry.

Really? Galway has a curse over Derry?

Cast your mind back. In the first half of the 1990s everything was going swimmingly. Lavey defeated Salthill at Croke Park in 1991 to win the All Ireland Senior Club title. Then in 1995, the Oak Leaf minors snatched a late, one-point victory over the Tribesmen in an All Ireland semi-final, thanks to a last gasp goal from Enda Muldoon.

That Galway minor outfit must have taken their semi-final defeat pretty bad. Because we’ve got nothing from their native county ever since.

The five-point drubbing we took from them in a SFC semi-final in 1998 looked inevitable at half-time, but we went into that game with high hopes of reaching the final. A masterclass from Messrs Joyce and Jarlath Fallon and a biblical downpour later, and Derry were out.

Then 2001 happened. (Please forgive the terse recall on this one. The wounds are still raw.) For the uninitiated: Derry had one foot – and maybe four toes of the other – in their third All Ireland SFC Final, but with about ten minutes to go in another semi-final against Galway the whole thing inexplicably fell around us in a three-point defeat.

You’ll hear Oak Leaf supporters talk about the Tyrone loss in 1995 as the most horrible in our history, some will maybe mention Down in ’94. But Galway in 2001 was the worst of the lot.

We had the chance last summer, 2015, to at least partly avenge those painful defeats – in a Round 3 qualifier. Again, Derry started well, but referee Conor Lane awarded the Tribesmen seven successive soft frees in the opening half to provide Galway a platform for victory. The Cork official’s performance made the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department look like a bastion of justice and civil liberty.

Another turn of unfortunate events.

Now, don’t think this curse is confined to senior football. Derry’s excellent minor team of 2007 lost an All Ireland Final to Galway by a single point. Even the hurlers lost an All Ireland quarter-final to the Westerners in 2001.

Oak Leaf club teams haven’t fared much better in the same twenty-year span. Dungiven and Loup lost All Ireland semi-finals to Corofin and Cealtra respectively in 1998 and 2004. While Slaughtneil also lost out to Corofin in last year’s Final.

It’s a litany of woe.

But… we always liked Galway

And yet, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Derry supporter with a bad word to say about the Connacht-men. A defeat to Galway doesn’t feel like a defeat to one of our bitter Ulster neighbours. Nor is it like a loss to some minnow from Leinster, who treat Derry as a massive scalp and celebrate victory with all the class and grace of a millennial teen beating their dad on the Xbox for the first time.

Not Galway.

They’ll give us a good beating alright, but afterwards they shake hands and merely move onto the next game. No big deal.

And therein lies the problem. Derry players and fans alike need to get a bit more clued into this if we are to figure out a way to break the affliction. League football doesn’t count unfortunately – so the apparent curse won’t be broken this weekend – instead we’ll just have to wait for that elusive Championship victory. The later in the summer the better. Hit them where it hurts.

Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait 84 years like those Red Sox.

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