Donagh savours winning national rally championship title

Donagh savours winning national rally championship title
The world of rally drivers is dripping with the adrenaline of living life on the edge.

The world of rally drivers is dripping with the adrenaline of living life on the edge.

And you might expect the winner of a major title at the weekend to be in a major celebratory mood.

44 year-old Frosses driver Donagh Kelly had his greatest triumph of his career when he and Derry co-driver Kevin Flanagan clinched the Triton Showers National Rally Championship after coming second place on the McCormack Opel/Sligo Park Hotel Rally in his trusty Ford Focus World Rally Car.

But the modest understated Donagh did not do any great celebrations as he quietly savoured the highlight of the sport that he first embraced as a seven year old back in 1978.

Donagh does not do hype but has a steely passion for the sport he loves.

And this is an iron man who refused to let a broken back and a broken pelvis in 2000 stop him from continuing to compete.

“We only needed to finish in the top six to clinch the title so we were just making sure that we got around the course all right.

“But it is great to be winning competitions and to be mentioned along with greats like Billy Coleman, Bertie Fisher and Austin McHale”, said Donagh.

Racing legends

A visit to the Donegal Rally in 1978 as a 7 year-old convinced Donagh that he wanted to be a rally driver.

Young Donagh watched the racing legends from his perch at Killymard and a life long love affair was born.

The Donegal Town native then went to study Quantity Surveying in Bolton Street in the late 1980s.

He then went to work in Telecommunications in Scotland.

But the first thing he did in the early 1990s when he went to Edinburgh was to borrow £2,000, no mean sum in those days, to buy a wee Vauxhall Nova.

Donagh competed in rallys in Scotland before moving to Manchester in the mid 1990s to continue in the rallying game.

And as his telecommunications company grew he also took part in competitions in the centre of Wales.

But it all nearly ended for Donagh in October 2000 when he sustained severe injuries when his car left the road near Inver.

Donagh suffered a broken back and a badly damaged pelvis after his car struck a tree.

And while that would have knocked out most people, Donagh was determined to make a comeback.

“At the time I was kind of annoyed that my mother was telling me to give up the rallying.

“She kept saying that I was never to go rallying again and that was causing me more difficulty than the pain.”

Donagh was out of rallying for 18 months but his iron will drove him back into competitions and he turned his attentions to competing with some success in Northern Ireland in the mid Noughties.

He graduated to Diesel Golfs and then to Mitsubishi Evolutions as his passion grew for the sport grew stronger.

Rallying does not come cheap and Donagh said that a new World Rally Car can cost up to £420,000.

Sponsorship is thus vital and he is grateful to Northern Gate Vehicle Hire, Donnellys Group and Michelin tyres.

Donagh’s current Ford Focus is worth around £200,000 so it is by no means a cheap sport.

But the avid rally man is just happy to be able to be compete in a sport adorned by the likes of Billy Coleman and Fermanagh’s Bertie Fisher.

And the rallying bug is hitting the next generation of Kelly’s as Donagh’s 16 year-old son Eamon did his first rally with his dad in Lurgan on the weekend before last.

Donagh’s wife Anita is from England and they have a daughter Lily to complete the family circle.

Exciting times

And it is a very exciting time for Donagh as he and his co driver are leading in the Irish Tarmac Championship.

But there is one more surprise from this remarkable Frosses man.

When asked what he has been doing since his days of studying Quantity Surveying in Bolton Street in the late 1980s, he replies that he is a company director.

But it turns out that he is the CEO of a worldwide company called K N Telecommunications.

He founded the company in 1994 and the company now employs 2,000 people.

The company is based all over Ireland, in Africa, India and the Caribbean.

Most business people get the marketing plug in very quickly but this grounded Donegal native is just keen to stay in the driving seat for as long as possible.

And he will be in Clones on Sunday supporting his native county.

This is truly a remarkable son of Tir Chonaill.