Sunday 18 February 2018

'It's one thing I want to see happen during my lifetime' - Mayo's 1951 survivor on winning 'just one All-Ireland'

Survivor from Mayo's win 65 years ago would die happy if All-Ireland 'curse' was finally lifted

Mayo legend Paddy Prendergast. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Mayo legend Paddy Prendergast. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

"To win just once against the odds, and once be smiled on by the Gods"

The Saw Doctors, 'To Win Just Once'

When pondering Mayo's All-Ireland famine those lyrics immediately spring to mind. Sixty-five years of optimism brewing that this could be the year, slowly building towards a September crescendo only to have hopes dashed each year.

And with every passing season it becomes less likely that Paddy Prendergast will see a green and red jersey following in the footsteps of the magnificent 1950/51 team, in which he starred at full-back.

Camaraderie fostered throughout Mayo's glory days has slowly been taken away by Father Time and he is now the only living member of the starting 15 still in Ireland with 'The Flying Doctor', Padraig Carney, now residing in the US.

"It's a very sad state of affairs," Prendergast, who is in his late-80s, says of being the sole survivor living in Ireland. "It prevents me from attending functions, it's sad. None of my football friends are left and all those friendships for life are gone. They're not there."

Living and working in Dungloe while also togging out for Donegal, Prendergast had no desire to travel around the country playing for Mayo and he declared for his native county "with a certain degree of reluctance" when requested.

"We played Kerry in Tralee in 1947 and got a draw. We suddenly realised we weren't as bad as we thought but I was happy as Larry where I was and I had no great hope at the time. We weren't going anywhere."

Mayo were at "the bottom of the barrel" but he made the plunge, 'commuting' from Donegal. In primitive times, the 360km round-trip "was like travelling to America" as he spent two nights on the road to make it back to Ballina.

Unbreakable bonds were fostered in Mrs Gaughan's Guesthouse, which was their overnight training base, however, as they went from "no-hopers" to back-to-back champions in a couple of years.

One of the main reasons thrown around for Mayo's seven subsequent All-Ireland final defeats was the so-called 'curse' cast on the victorious team for not stopping their team 'lorry' at a funeral in Foxford and showing their respects, but Prendergast has no recollection of such events.

"I can't remember if there was a funeral, it's supposed to have happened but we weren't aware of it and even if we wanted to we couldn't have got down off the lorry," he says.

"It had high cribs so no one was getting down off it, no chance. People came down to Tralee (where he now resides) specifically to talk to me about the curse and get pictures taken but we weren't cursed, I never believed that."

Described by Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh as "the most spectacular full-back of his generation", Prendergast will be honoured with a GPA Lifetime Achievement Award tonight but unfortunately, he won't be in attendance.

A pre-planned family holiday will leave him in the sunnier climate of Spain, but his mind will really be in Croke Park willing Stephen Rochford's men over the line.

If ever a team and "the greatest supporters in the world" deserved their day in the sun this is it, but he knows all the stars will have to align to derail a Dublin two-in-a-row.

"What these players have put into Mayo football is phenomenal, they're great footballers and they should have won a few by now. Every year gets harder and harder, especially with great teams like Dublin around," he says.

"It's depressing to think about, so many years have passed by and Sam Maguire hasn't made its way back to Mayo since 1951. We should've won two All-Irelands in the last five years, I firmly believe that.

"It's one thing I want to see happening during my life time, it would make up for all the hardship. That's the one thing I want, just one All-Ireland. It's been a long time and we've missed so many in between.

"We've had so many sad days returning from Croke Park but St Patrick spent some time in our county so maybe he'll have a word to say to someone."

For Mayo, to win just once, that would be enough.

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