Ending of a ‘famine’ imminent for Waterford or Galway

Waterford waiting 58 years for Liam MacCarthy cup – Galway 29 without a win

Waterford hurlers are bidding to win a first All-Ireland senior hurling title since 1959. Photo: Inpho

Waterford hurlers are bidding to win a first All-Ireland senior hurling title since 1959. Photo: Inpho

 

One way or the other, a famine will end on the first Sunday in September. If it’s Waterford who lift Liam MacCarthy, 58 years of wishes will pop up out of the penny fountain; if it’s Galway, the number is a not-insignificant 29.

And unless you have wilfully been nesting under a rock somewhere over the past seven summers, you will know that the big ball side of the house can see a famine go this year as well – Mayo have, until next Sunday at least, the chance to close off a gap that currently stands at 66 years since their last Sam Maguire.

We love a good famine in the GAA. Captains roar its end in victory speeches, showbands work it into song. Usually, for no other reason than the need to blame something, a curse or incantation gets attached to it somewhere along the way.

Biddy Early for the Clare hurlers, the priest in Foxford for the Mayo footballers. The Galway hurlers apparently had a priest who cursed them too away back in the day. Verily, when the Lord taketh away, he taketh for good.

The longest famine ever to be closed off in either football or hurling belongs to the Clare hurlers. A goggling 81 years passed between their first and second All-Irelands, almost twice the length of the longest football famine. For 63 of those years, they didn’t even win a Munster title. That’s multiple generations-worth of long winters sitting in a county’s race memory.

This is the GAA, though, and famine is a relative term.

In Tipperary, there is still a generation of not-old men who shudder at the 18-year gap between their 22nd and 23rd titles. When Richie Stakelum shrieked “The famine is over!” after the 1987 Munster final, Tipp were still two years off closing the All-Ireland circle that had sat open since 1971. Much and all as most of the country can only dream of an 18-year famine, beating Antrim in 1989 was met with relief as much as joy in Tipperary.

Second-longest

A famine is what you make it. Kilkenny have had two 10-year famines, from 1922 to ’32 and from 1947 to ’57. Offaly’s longest stretch between two titles was just nine years, although obviously it will count as their longest if and when they ever win it again.

For what it’s worth, Waterford will close off the second longest ever famine if they prevail on September 3rd. By ending a 58-year stretch without an All-Ireland, they will bypass the 57 years Galway put down between 1923 and 1980.

In football, Mayo will be out on their own in terms of ending famines if they do come through Sunday’s game with Kerry and finish the job next month. If they do it this year, they will put manners on a 66-year famine, making it by a distance the longest stretch any county has endured between two All-Irelands.

Currently top of that particularly chart is the 45 years that passed between Louth’s victories in 1912 and 1957.

Again though, everything is relative. Arguably the most famous famine in football before Mayo’s was the 11-year winless stretch Kerry went through after Mick O’Dwyer’s team broke up in the mid-1980s. And as for the 19-year stretch between 1923 and 1942 that Dublin went without a title in the last century, it is essentially impossible for such a gap to ever open up again.

A word, finally, for the only non-famine in the GAA. The great Roscommon team of the 1940s did their business in brisk fashion. In winning back-to-back titles in 1942 and ’43 – and never again since – they are the only team in history to win more than one All-Ireland and not see a famine in between.

Plenty of it since, of course. But then, couldn’t near enough everyone say that?

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