Clare prepare to confront the curse of Biddy Early

All Ireland Hurling Final

For the 65,000 at tomorrow's All Ireland final, not to mention the millions who will watch it around the world, the key figure will not be any of the players on view, but a mysterious Clare woman who made her name six decades ago. The final, which takes place at Croke Park, Dublin, matches Offaly, the champions, against a Clare team that has been burdened since the 1930s by the curse of Biddy Early.

In the wild, west coast county of Clare (next parish, Newfoundland) the variations of the legend are as diverse as those who tell it. The gist is that Biddy Early, denounced from the pulpit as a witch in the 1930s, but revered by many as a faith healer, wanted to travel with the Clare team to the provincial final of 1932. Whether from constraints of space or because of personal preferences, she was refused a lift. The resulting curse she put on that team was that every one of them would be dead before Clare would again win an All-Ireland final.

This makes for an uncomfortable weekend for the three survivors of that day, especially "Goggles" Doyle, the genial captain of the team long ago who wore motorcycle goggles over his spectacles when he played. If Clare are to triumph, they will have to overcome a formidable Offaly half-back line in which Brian Whelehan is an intimidating presence. Jamesie O'Connor is the nimble forward that Clare supporters will be hoping can pick a path past this obstacle.

Those supporters are prepared to go to any length to be present. One Clare exile made the trek from Tokyo for their semi-final triumph over Galway, confident that his was the longest journey. When he changed planes in Moscow he found himself next to another Clareman on his way to the match, but he had come from Omsk, in Siberia, and had already endured four days of train travel to get that far.

The journey back will be a long, silent one if Clare do not win. If they can break the curse then the rumour among Ireland's large and cynical punting fraternity is that the bookies will sue the estate of Biddy Early for breach of contract.

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