Republic of Ireland news

‘Mayo for Sam': Biden wins crowd over by wishing home team success

US President Joe Biden delivers a speech at St Muredach's Cathedral (BrianLawless/PA)
Cillian Sherlock, PA

US president Joe Biden has expressed support to the football team representing his Irish ancestral home county of Mayo.

Speaking in the Mayo town of Ballina at the end of his four-day trip to the island of Ireland, Mr Biden concluded with a familiar chant for fans of the team: “Mayo for Sam.”

The comments at the end of his speech were met with raucous applause by the long-suffering fans of the Mayo team.

The Mayo gaelic football team is regarded as one of the best in the country, but has consistently fallen short of winning the top prize of the Sam Maguire Cup for winning the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship.

Gaelic football is a traditional Irish sport distinct from soccer in a number of ways, including the scoring goal posts and the carriage of the ball in the hands.

Mayo has not won the coveted cup in more than 70 years, despite reaching the final – and losing – 11 times since 1989.

In 2016 for example, the original final ended in a draw forcing a replay where they lost by one point, a particular tight margin in gaelic football which racks up more frequent scores.

In fact, the green-and-red team has lost by one point in three finals since it last won the championship in 1951.

In recent years, much has been written of a supposed “Mayo curse” to explain the ill fate of the team since then.

Infamously, the myth pertains to a story that the 1951 winning team had not shown respect to a funeral they passed on their homecoming route.

It is said a relative of the deceased placed a curse on Mayo that the county would not win the Sam Maguire until every member of the 1951 team had died.

The so-called curse has been criticised as not showing respect to the legacy of that team – as well as causing discomfort for the players and their families.

The facts behind the story have also been questioned, while others see it as a convenient excuse for poor performance.

It was reported that the last surviving member of the 1951 team died in 2021.

Earlier, A former Mayo footballer and current TD has said he asked Mr Biden to say a prayer for the teams success.

Alan Dillon, from Mayo, met the US president ahead of a prayer in Knock.

“Yeah, I asked him in his quiet moment of reflection, maybe to talk to the man above and ask him to do us some good this year on the football field.

“He smiled, he’s well aware of the famine we have in this county,” he said, referring to the team’s lack of success.

Fine Gael TD for Mayo Michael Ring also appealed personally to Mr Biden to mention the Mayo Gaelic football team.

Asked if Mr Biden would mention the team in the speech, Mr Ring said: “He certainly is because I put it into his ear today.

“So I hope that when he gives that message tonight, that’d be the last message.

“We’re waiting for the Sam Maguire. We’ve had everybody here now, we’ve had the president of the United States, we’ve had the Pope, and we’ve had many, many distinguished visitors over the years.

”To me, there’s only one guy we’re missing it and you’ll know who that fella is, it’s Uncle Sam – Sam Maguire.”

The Mayo team could well be in contention to finally lift the trophy this year, after winning the separate National Football League competition earlier this year.

However, in the typical highs-and-lows nature of the game, that major victory was quickly followed by a decisive defeat in the first round of the regional Connacht championship.

That defeat does not rule them out for winning the overall competition and fans will be hoping Mr Biden’s comments might spell a new, more positive omen for the team.