Celebration time for Manus Kelly and Donal Barrett after their Joule Donegal International Rally win.
His victory in the Donegal International Rally was one of the highlights of the sporting year in Donegal.
Glenswilly man Manus Kelly looks back on a weekend of excitement and high drama back in June.
Manus Kelly admits himself that he still hasn’t quite got over his never-to-be-forgotten win in this year’s Donegal International Rally.
The Glenswilly man’s half a second victory, sealed on the very last stage of a pulsating weekend of rallying, was one of the high points of the sporting year in Donegal.
For Kelly and his co-driver, Donal Barrett, it was the stuff of dreams.
“I’m still in the clouds,” Kelly quipped this week.
“It’s one of those things you’ll never forget. It was class.”
Their win back in June, when they pipped the Cork/Kerry pair of Keith Cronin and Mikie Galvin on the final stage in Fanad, saw Kelly and Barrett become only the third Donegal crew to win the event after Vincent Bonner and Seamus McGettigan, and more recently Declan and Brian Boyle.
They also became the first crew to win the National and International sections of the rally in successive years.
And this was despite having never led the rally at any time until they came off that final stage.
Kelly, a special guest on Highland Radio’s Sunday Sport show last weekend, recalled the mood in the car as he and Donal Barrett came off the penultimate stage, Atlantic Drive, knowing they trailed the leading pair by just over nine seconds.
“It was surreal,” Kelly said.
“We left Downings after coming off the Atlantic Drive where Keith had taken just over a second out of us. That’s what I had expected and I was happy that’s all he took, because that stage just didn’t suit our car and I felt it was too treacherous to push him there.
“Given that we were 18 seconds quicker than Keith on the first run over Fanad, I was confident that I’d take seven or eight seconds. I was confident the stage would suit me and the car better.
“We didn’t speak too much going over. I was just in the zone, neither of us spoke at all.
“I remember going up to the start line in Kindrum and looking over and Barrett saying to me ‘what are we doing?’. I told him we were going for gold. That’s just what we did.”
What happened over the next few minutes will go down in Donegal Rally folklore. Kelly put in a quite superb drive in his Subaru WRC to edge out Cronin in a Citroen DS3 by less than half a second.
It was a fantastic end to an event which saw the lead change hands so many times over the three days. There was drama too on Saturday when Kelly and Barrett had an off on the Garrygort stage.
“On Saturday morning, we went over the first stage in Knockalla,” Kelly said.
“I love Knockalla, and Declan (Boyle) was just half a second quicker than us on it. We were second fastest and I thought after that, this is the time for us to kick on now.
“Then it was down to Garrygort. We had an unreal run but I got caught out on that small bit of breaking before the corner and I could just see this big tree. I knew it wasn’t happening so I just steered away from the tree and steered into a field.
“I remember pulling the handbrake and sitting in the field surrounded by long grass and looking out and I went ‘Oh my God, how did you manage to do this?’
“The thoughts that were going threw my head were on the sponsors, all the effort that had gone in, all the team, and that I’d let everybody down.
“All the time, nobody spoke. There were a few lads from Cork there trying to get an old wire gate open.
“Eventually we got it open and we got out to the end of the stage but I never felt as low in a car.”
Kelly lost over a minute and slipped down to eighth overall.
“We got back to service. I had an unbelievably positive team behind me, led up by Paul Crumlish, and my good friend David McGinley was there,” Kelly said.
“We had a good chat in the truck. He got things turned around in my head, my big thick Glenswilly head. We weren’t taking no for an answer.”
Donagh Kelly’s rally came to an end on Saturday when his Ford Focus blew its engine. Suddenly Declan Boyle was the new leader and led by one minute and 50 seconds. That was until a transmission problem brought his Fiesta to a halt on Saturday’s final stage.
“Obviously in rallying, you never know what’s going to happen. The next thing we passed Declan down past Gerard Doherty’s shop in Gartan,” Kelly said.
“We were gutted for Declan. Obviously he’s a very good friend of mine.
“We came out of that stage and looked at one another and said, you wouldn’t know what would happen here.”
There was to be more drama and excitement throughout Sunday and even though Kelly remained well behind the leading groups, he felt he was always in with a chance.
“It’s no more than any sport, you have to fight for anything you get,” he said.
“We knew that if we performed and gave it our best, we’d not be far away. We left it a bit on the tight side, but that’s the way it ended up.”
In 2017, Kelly will go into Donegal in car No. 1. The countdown to June is already well underway.
“The thought of it is just class,” he said.
“I can’t wait to start Donegal. We are going back to defend our title. It is likely to be the S12 B again.
“I’m hoping to do a few rallies between March and June and try and get match fit and be able to give a good account of ourselves.
“We have a new navigator there now in Gareth Doherty so it’s great to get some experience for Gareth as well.”
Doherty has replaced Donal Barrett who for work and personal reasons, has put rallying on the back burner.
“The navigator is the unsung hero in all rally cars,” Kelly said.
“Any good driver will tell you he’s going nowhere without his navigator. If I had gone around that last stage in Fanad without Donal, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
“Donal’s a top class navigator.
“Unfortunately with other commitments with the family and work, Donal has called it a day now. You wouldn’t know, he might come back in future years.”
In the meantime Manus Kelly is still getting used to the fact that he’s a Donegal International winner.
“The stuff that has happened since I won it has been brilliant,” he said.
“The small things like going to my local school, opening festivals. They’re all joking and laughing about it but they’re all lovely things.
“People you meet on the street, they’re not even rally followers but they say to you, ‘you’re the buck that won the rally’.
“It’s a great sport and long may it continue.”