Mayo ‘curse’ never had any relevance for Dermot Flanagan or his father Seán

Seán Flanagan was the last Mayo captain to lift the Sam Maguire in 1951

When Dermot Flanagan dismisses the Mayo 'curse,' as having the same basis in reality as "a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow", he does so with some authority.

His father Seán was the last man to lift the Sam Maguire for Mayo in the increasingly distant year of 1951 and for good measure had lifted it the previous year as well.

He also has the experience of playing in as many All-Ireland finals as his father but – despite one replay and a sequence of one-score defeats – never managed to add to the family's medal haul.

“The perpetuation of the ‘curse’ is mystifying to me,” he said. “My father never referred at any time in his life to anything of this sort.

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"When I played in the finals in 1989, 1996 and '97, I had no knowledge of this 'myth' as it was never referred to by any of the members of that team or anyone else. I know, as I met all of them during my life, except for the late Mick Flanagan who died from leukaemia in 1960. That's a fact, not a myth.

"I also spoke some years ago with Paddy Prendergast, the godfather of my elder brother and a close friend of our family since the successes of 1950 and '51. His account makes no mention of any 'curse' in Foxford on the day.

“There is enough ‘emotion’ around Mayo football. Winning is as my father would put it, an exercise like a battle, knowing and analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition as well as your own.

“The team of 1950 and ’51 had exceptional talent and a will to win. The members of the team had significant success in other aspects of their lives. This is testament to their character, personality and skill.”

His own playing career actually coincided with Mayo’s next coming. The county had come close in All-Ireland semi-finals in the 1960s but the following decade was a wasteland in which not a single Connacht championship was won.

As a law student in UCD, Flanagan had a role in facilitating one of the great landmarks of football in the 1980s, Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh's training sessions in Belfield for any Dublin-based Kerry players but also open to other county men who wanted to join in.

"It was a regret for me recently that I couldn't attend an event to mark Micheál's 90th birthday," he recalled. "I was part of the crew trained by him on those evenings, organised by Tomás Ó Flatharta back in 1983. They were primarily for Jack O'Shea and Mick Spillane but others joined."

A newspaper article questioned at one stage what Kerry players were doing training in Belfield when they weren’t UCD students.

Flanagan intervened.

“I was secretary of the UCD Gaelic football club. I said, ‘I’m going to write to the Kerry County Board and invite them to participate in our ‘Summer Training Programme’ – which didn’t exist because the players were students and away for the summer. Kerry were very happy to accept and on we went.

“I had started playing for Mayo in 1982 and I can tell you that Micheál’s training sessions were excellent and not at all like Mick O’Dwyer’s – possibly because Jacko and Mick were already so fit, as I was and someone like Ciarán Murray from Monaghan.

Incredible achievement

“Everything was done on a stopwatch and very advanced, designed for fellas who were naturally fit but needed to maintain a degree of sharpness. I was the fittest on the Mayo team at the time but it took me two seasons to get up to the level of intensity and recovery that Jacko and Mick had. I brought that back to Mayo.”

He is bullish about Saturday after the semi-final.

"It's an incredible achievement for me seeing these young lads come through with their athleticism and toughness. Everyone knew what you had to do to beat Dublin – match their physicality, have a game plan, keep it going and eventually break their mind rather than their bodies.

“If you’re going to topple any of the great teams, you have to break them mentally. That’s what Mayo did.

“There is a caveat. Tyrone have been transitioning very well in recent years and neither team has won an All-Ireland yet. Mayo though have proved their resilience and have the confidence of those new players. I think it’s nicely set.”

On the weekend that Mayo beat Dublin in last month’s semi-final, Flanagan organised a cycle around the county to visit all 49 pitches and invited his team-mates from the 1996 and ’97 All-Irelands to take part.

“They were a lovely bunch and we had never had a proper reunion. I did the full eight days and most of the lads joined me for the stage around their own clubs. The kindness and generosity of people . . ”

He had survived a brush with cancer in 2017 and wanted to mark his good fortune. The cycle took off with his brother, John, more accustomed to piloting 747s and Airbuses, taking the wheel of the support van, festooned with promotional material for a fund raiser for the Oncology Unit in Mayo Hospital.

“We started from Ballaghaderreen, my own club, on the day of the Dublin match and my brother John said a lovely word as we set out the next morning.

“Isn’t it nice that we’re cycling around the county, the morning after an All-Ireland semi-final and not analysing a defeat.”