This Isn't The First Time The Pope Has Meddled With A Sacred Irish Sporting Day

This Isn't The First Time The Pope Has Meddled With A Sacred Irish Sporting Day

The GAA's best-laid plans to move the All-Ireland football final to August look to have gone awry, thanks to the pesky Pope.

With the expected Papal visit next year to end with a great, big mass, likely to be held at Croke Park (assuming the local residents don't get overly-angsty about the hymns going on for a bit).

So if the Papal Mass goes ahead as planned, the All-Ireland football final will be pushed back to the first Sunday in September.

This won't be the first time that the Pope had meddled with the most sacred day in the Irish sporting calendar, however.

Back in 1979, at the apogee of Ireland's Papalmania, the football final was moved back a week, from the fourth Sunday of September to the third. This ended up having serious repercussions for Dublin, and one player in particular: Jimmy Keaveney.

Keaveney had been sent off in the Leinster final, for elbowing Offaly's Ollie Minnock. Dublin mounted a comeback to secure a sixth Leinster title in a row, to extend their summer. Keaveney's was too, by a quirk of the GAA's disciplinary system. He was handed an eight-week ban, which was scheduled to expire the week of the All-Ireland final, meaning he would be free to play.

Such a reprieve was snaffled from him, however, by the Pope. To facilitate the enormous gathering at the Phoenix Park, the football final was moved back a week, meaning Keaveney's ban did not expire.


Without him, Dublin fell yet again to Kerry, hammered 3-13 to 1-8. To add a degree of insult to Keaveny's injury, Kerry's Mikey Sheehy kicked 2-6, to equal the record for an individual in an All-Ireland final. The record had been set just two years previously... by one Jimmy Keaveney.

Keaveny retired from inter-county football that year.

More positive about the Papal visit that year was Galway's Joe Connolly. At the time of the Papal visit, they had won an All-Ireland just once, in 1923. Woe was general across the county, and they had been soundly beaten by Kilkenny in the All-Ireland less than a month before the Pope came to town. It was generally perceived as one of the weaker Kilkenny sides, so a comprehensive defeat left Galway hurling marinating in the same fatalistic and pervasive GAA doom that currently afflicts Mayo.

Whispers had subsided to a general, weary feeling, that Galway hurling was somehow afflicted with a Biddy-Early style curse. In Over the Bar, Breandán ó hEithir writes of how he encountered it:

In those years the roads were always full of groups of men cycling to and from matches on a Sunday and it was in one of these groups, somewhere between Portumna and Loughrea as night fell on our sad journey west, that I first heard the story of the curse. In the circumstances it was easy to believe. We swore we would never again follow the Galway hurlers.

However, they went on to win Liam McCarthy the following year, with Connolly remarking in The GAA: An Oral History: 

I began to think there was some substance to it. Then the Pope came to Ireland and said mass across the road from where I grew up, at Ballybrit racecourse.

We beat Limerick in the All-Ireland final in 1980 and had whatever bit of luck was going - the county's first-ever win since 1923, when Limerick were also beaten. We won the Railway Cup.

Maybe the Pope lifted the curse.

So next September, best to get the Pope to Castlebar.  To do so, it will soon be time for the native of that county to shout it louder than they ever have before: Mayo - God Help Us.

See Also: Dara Ó Cinnéide Critical Of Kerry Players' "Nice Guy" Defence Of Brendan O'Sullivan


Gavin Cooney
Article written by
Changed the spelling of his name upon pressure from Michael Owen.

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