With about 7 minutes to go last Sunday as Kerry led by 4 points, Colm Cooper was poised to break one of the curses of Gaelic Football. The Gooch was wearing the number 13 jersey and was about to become the first ever captain wearing 13 to lift the Sam Maguire.
Fast forward about 15 minutes and it was the Dublin number 12 Bryan Cullen holding Sam aloft. The curse had struck again in spectacular fashion. Even the Kingdom couldn’t overcome the spell of the number 13 jersey.
But how many other captains have fallen foul of this curse in football and in hurling?
The Sam Maguire was first awarded in 1928 so since then there have been 83 winning captains and 83 losing captains. The chart below shows the distribution of winning captains and losing captains by jersey number (click on the chart to view it in full size):
Football captains by jersey
So for example 8 goalkeepers (blue column) have captained their team on All-Ireland final Sunday - with 4 ending up on the winning side (green column) and 4 on the losing side (red column).
So what about the feared number 13 jersey? It’s striking that it is the least popular jersey number for All-Ireland football final captains. It’s only been worn 3 times out of a possible 166. In fact there was not one captain who wore the number 13 from 1928 until 1990 (Colm O’Rourke). The other “cursed” captains were Phillip Clifford in 1999 and of course, the Gooch. This goes some way to explain why a number 13 has never held Sam aloft; the right corner forward rarely captains his team.
This indicates that the “curse” is a perhaps self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe it suggests that superstitious counties simply avoid having a number 13 as captain just in case they make it to Croker on the third Sunday in September. If each jersey number were represented equally then each would have about 11 (166/15) turns as captain - which is the case for the numbers 2, 5 and 14. But the cursed number 13 jersey falls well below that with just 3 captains wearing it.
Maybe it’s a corner forward thing? The other corner forward position is not so popular either. Only 6 captains have worn the number 15 jersey (4 winners and 2 losers).
What about the “luck” (or lack thereof) of other jersey numbers?
We hear very little about the dangers of wearing the number 7 jersey? But 9 captains have worn 7 but only 2 have lifted Sam (two Down men - DJ Kane in ‘94 and Joe Lennon in ‘68).
If you believe in the power of the jersey number and want to maximise your chances of winning, which jersey should the captain wear? Number 11 is the most successful jersey. 25 captains have worn 11 with 16 winners. Number 5 is “lucky” too with 7 winners versus 4 losers. You could also go for number 9 - 6 winners and 3 losers.
What about the Liam McCarthy cup? Which jerseys are “cursed” when it comes to lifting the Liam McCarthy cup?
Hurling captains by jersey number
Is it the feared number number 13? Well no. In fact 3 number 13s have lifted Liam - DJ Carey in 2003, Tomas Mulcahy in 1990 and Charlie McCarthy in ‘78. Five number 13s have been on the losing side - Eoin Kelly this year, Michael McGrath in ‘93, Ger Fitzgerald in ‘92, Nicky English in ‘88 and S Feeney in ‘34.
No, the number to avoid if you are a superstitious hurler is number 9. 8 captains have worn 9 but only one has lifted Liam - that was Eamon Grimes in ‘73.
If you want a “lucky” jersey for a hurling captain then pick number 12. It’s been worn 13 times with 10 of those winning. Some great number 12s to captain their teams to glory include Christy Ring (’53 and ‘54) and Eddie Keher (’69).
Ultimately those of us who are not superstitious believe that even if the next 10 captains to wear the number 13 lose, it would not have no bearing on the next guy after that to wear it. Just as tossing a coin 10 times and coming up heads does not mean that the 11th toss will yield a head.
But that’s no consolation to the Gooch.
I tried to collate all the data for losing and winning captains but am missing the following data points:
- The position of the 1934 winning Galway football captain M Higgins
- The position of the 1933 losing Galway football captain M Donnellan
- The position of the 1930 losing Monaghan football captain P Kilroy
- The position of the 1937 losing Galway hurling captain J Duggan
- The position of the 1933 losing Limerick hurling captain M Fitzgibbon
- The position of the 1930 losing Dublin hurling captain J Walsh
- The name position of the 1929 losing Galway hurling captain
There were 2 non-playing captains in hurling which are not included in my stats
- Frank Wall in 1924
- Lory Meagher in 1931
Also not included is Michael Fennelly who was a sub in 2009 and wore 21.