James Cullen - most decorated Donegal Sports Star


James Cullen - most decorated Donegal Sports Star

Rally driver James Cullen is the most decorated of all Donegal Sports Star Award winners with six awards in the history of the Donegal Sports Star awards.

The Letterkenny man, who was one of the leading Irish rally drivers in the 1980s and 1990s, won the first of his awards in 1981 and last was in 1999. The others were 1986, ‘88,’91 and ‘93.

“It is a good while to be out and about in any sport alright,” said James, speaking at Monday night’s launch of the 2017 Donegal Sports Star Awards in the Mount Errigal Hotel.

“They were great old years and it was nice to be recognised and honoured in your own county with all the sports people from those years.”

The first award, in only his second year in rallying, came on the back of a good club rallying season and a first major win.

“I won the Donegal Harvest that year. It was down in Buncrana and I was driving a 1600 car and it was seen as a big achievement at the time.

“Cathal McGettigan, a brother of Seamus McGettigan, who went on to win Donegal along with Vincent Bonner, was my co-driver.”

The second award in 1986 was after competing in the British Rally Championship for the first time.

“I did the British Rally Championship in 1986 in a Nissan and won a number of awards for that with Team Nissan Europe.”

That was the first year of James’ famous partnership with co-driver Ellen Morgan, a partnership that enjoyed great success over the next 13 years until James called time on serious rallying in 1999.

James Cullen was again honoured in 1988 with a third Motor Sport Award.

“It was the year I was in the Ascona; we were a private team and we were racing professionals and we took on Ford Motorsport.

“We had the beating of them in a number of rallies and we finished second in a couple of international rallies to Mark Lovell and we would have beaten a lot of the top stars of the day.”

James won three more awards in the 1990s.

“1991 and ‘99 were the years I won the Donegal International Rally and in ‘99 people may remember we had the pink Sierra Cosworth and we had a great season that year.”

While winning the award six times, James never got his hand on the overall award.

And it is not something that ever bothered him or haunts him in the present day.

“I was never fortunate to win the overall one but it is not something that ever bothered me. As far as I was concerned it was great to win the motorsport award.

“I always looked on the award as a great honour for myself but also great recognition for my sport, motor sport and that is all that mattered to me.

“Donegal is quite unique in that it has these awards because as I found out in my travels around the country down the years it is not every county that has their own sports awards.

“This is the 41st year and it has been a great achievement to keep it going and it is a huge event now in the Donegal sporting calendar.

“And when you look back at the list of winners down the years and the many international stars and household names it is great to look back and to know that I have been part of all that is very satisfying.”