Mayo face into the possibility of a fourth All-Ireland final defeat in six years on Sunday.
Whereas the disappointment for the county in losing eight finals since their last success in 1951 is without parallel, in the short term their neighbours Galway can match the suffering.
Galway footballers lost three All-Ireland finals in four years from 1971 to ’74 and in an earlier generation they became the only county to lose three successive finals when going down in 1940 and 1941 to Kerry and in ’42 losing to Dublin.
These defeats didn’t have the same impact on the public as Mayo’s current travails despite coming together in more concentrated doses. Contemporary reports in the early 1970s don’t dwell on Galway’s sequence of disappointment. They lost to Offaly in 1971 in what was their opponents’ first ever All-Ireland win.
Two years later a skinhead Jimmy Barry-Murphy scored two goals in a comprehensive Cork defeat of Galway and a year later the rise of Kevin Heffernan’s Dubs was crowned against Galway in the final. Four years – three All-Ireland defeats.
Writer and broadcaster Jim Carney has given talks on Galway football in the Galway Museum and says that this was the case at the time.
“The reason that the disappointment wasn’t as acute and public as maybe it should have been was that the three-in-a-row was still fresh in the minds of Galway people. The very phrase has an iconic resonance in the history of the GAA in the county.
"That was an extraordinary team. Even the current Dublin team, which is exceptional, hasn't achieved that yet. When talking about it, I make the point that it has to be seen in the context of the 1960s. We had great players at that time but also local carnivals and rural electrification, the cultural explosion of Bob Dylan and the Beatles. They were good times in general, not just on the football field.
“That team started the practise of Galway people flying home to Ireland for the final and bringing with them plenty of money because they were genuinely successful in England and America. For the first time they actually had money; they weren’t just borrowing it from their mothers!”
He points out that for all that these were historically notable sequences of failure, they came after periods of success. Players on the teams of the early 1940s and ’70s had All-Ireland medals and unlike Mayo, there wasn’t a famine stretching back through decades.
“There is a sense,” according to Carney, “that in Mayo the feeling is, ‘will it never end?’ In 1971 when we lost to Offaly we said, ‘sure we have great young players and we’ll come back and win it again.’ But we didn’t.
"The mood in Galway football wasn't just about the three-in-a-row. We had also won a very good minor final in 1970, beating a star-studded Kerry team, featuring the likes of Jimmy Deenihan, Ger O'Keeffe, Ger Power and Mickey Ned O'Sullivan. We beat them not once but twice – in the 1972 under-21 final. So there was a view that the future was bright.
“I calculated that subsequently those Kerry players won 27 senior All-Ireland medals whereas we wouldn’t win any until 1998.”
There were similar dynamics back in the finals of 1940, ’41 and ’42.
“In 1934 we won what was known as the Jubilee final – the 50th anniversary of the GAA – and won it against Dublin, who were firm favourites against a young Galway team. Four years later they beat Kerry after a replay. Those two All-Irelands meant a great deal because we would have been outsiders in both and not alone were they won but Dublin and Kerry were beaten.
“So by the time the early 1940s came along, Galway were past their peak. They had the satisfaction of stopping a Kerry three-in-a-row in 1942 but ended up losing to Dublin.”
There was a link between the teams of the 1940s and 1970s: John “Tull” Dunne played for the former and managed the latter. They too prevented a three-in-a-row, beating Offaly in the 1973 All-Ireland semi-final before losing to Cork in the final.
Jim Carney says that public acceptance shouldn’t be confused with how the players felt.
“There were a number of players in the 1970s who didn’t have medals and losing those finals hurt them deeply but the county in general was still celebrating the three-in-a-row and believed there’d be more to come.”