09 Feb Kelly does the job in Galway! With Aaron McElroy.
The Donegal pairing of Donagh Kelly and Kevin Flanagan got their 2015 Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish
Tarmac Rally Championship off to a flying start by taking a convincing victory in the series opener,
the Colm Quinn Galway International Rally. Through the fog and ice, Kelly and Flanagan battled over
14 competitive stages to end the final stage just shy of forty seconds ahead of Eugene Donnelly and
Paul Kiely in their Mini WRC.
On Friday evening, the Irish rallying world descended on Eyre Square for the ceremonial start. With
number one on his Subaru’s door and as last year’s winner, Declan Boyle led out the parade and had
his eyes on defending last year’s title. Also on the entry list was the 2013 tarmac champion Garry
Jennings in a similar Impreza. Third on the road was “The Genie” Eugene Donnelly who has an
impressive history in Galway having won four times. The 2014 Billy Coleman Award winner Dean
Raftery was in the second Colm Quinn backed Mini and was looking to gain experience at the highest
end of Irish rallying. Donagh Kelly had number four on his Focus WRC, and behind him were the
Moffett brothers, Sam and Josh in identical Fiesta WRC’s. The fastest milkman in Ireland, Declan
Gallagher was the top seeded Modified driver at eight in the immaculate Starlet Rwd.
Day One got underway with a 12.8km Skehanagh test. Reigning champion Declan Boyle was six
seconds faster than Donagh Kelly, with Sam Moffett a further four seconds back. Gary Jennings was
fourth and Eugene Donnelly fifth, saying that he was on the rev limiter lots of times. Dean Raftery
struggled when his Mini went into safe mode and he was forced to limp back to service. Declan
Gallagher was best of the National section ahead of Brian Brogan, Liam Howlett and Micky Conlon –
all in Escort MkII’s.
There was no change at the top after the second test, with Declan Boyle only losing a single second
to Donagh Kelly. Garry Jennings was the big mover and found himself in third overall after the more
modern cars of Donnelly and the Moffetts struggled to match the outright speed of the two litre
WRC’s. It wasn’t until the third stage that Dean Raftery regained the speed in his Mini and after
having the water pipe come loose on his car he was cautious, but it all came good when he
eventually matched and beat the time of his team mate.
Boyle was in flying form on the following two stages to the extent that he was quicker than the
bogey time, so his lead over Donagh Kelly –who also beat the bogey time on Stage five-, was less
than it could have been. The big drama on Stage five however was the news that Garry Jennings and
Rory Kennedy went off the road and retired after they hit a gravelly corner near the end of the stage.
Declan and Brian Boyle should have sat with an overnight lead of over ten seconds but a three
minute penalty was applied after their Impreza WRC failed to start at the start line of Stage three
and they were penalised for every minute that they were late into the control. This left Donagh Kelly
at the top of the leader board, thirty eight seconds ahead of Donnelly, with Sam and Josh Moffett in
third and fourth respectively. Dean Raftery continued his climb up the time sheet after early trouble
to be sixth behind the relegated Boyle, and setting times equal and sometimes better than
Donnelly’s Mini WRC.
Declan Gallagher was the overnight leader in the National section, with a strong lead over Liam
Howlett in second. Mickey Conlon moved up to third after Brian Brogan hit transmission trouble and
fell to sixth by the end of the day. Brendan Cumiskey held first in Group N, just as he had done all
day in his newly acquired Subaru. Second was Brian O’Keefe with Aaron McHale third. In the
Historics, Ernie and Will Graham were leading over Gareth Lloyd and Gwynfor Jones, both in Escorts.
The opening stage of Day Two was covered in icy patches and made conditions treacherous for the
competitors. Donagh Kelly built on his inherited first place by taking six seconds out of Sam Moffett,
who jumped to second overall over Eugene Donnelly. All drivers found the roads hazardous and at
the end of Stage 9 they commented on how difficult it was to be brave at high speeds in dense fog.
Despite the visibility issues, Eugene Donnelly mounted an attack on Stage 9 and retook second
overall from Sam Moffett. Both Josh Moffett and Dean Raftery struggled on the roads but remained
in touch to the pack.
The nip and tuck between Donnelly and Moffett continued through Stage 10, Black Road and Stage
11, Lough Cultra. Moffett took second overall on Stage 9 before losing it on 10. Josh Moffett
retained fourth overall despite a puncture and vibration being felt through the car. Declan Boyle was
conserving his championship hopes and trying to maintain his position in order to gather valuable
points and consulate the earlier penalty. Dean Raftery continued to place competitive times and stay
in touch to the leading cars.
And that is how the rest of the day played out. Donagh Kelly cruised home ahead of Eugene Donnelly
who dogged it out with Sam Moffett all day to eventually finish second, just 0.7 seconds clear of the
Monaghan driver. Sam’s younger brother Josh was forth and closely followed by Declan Boyle who
raised his pace and finished just 3.9 seconds behind the second Combilift Fiesta WRC. Dean Raftery
rounded out the top six in an impressive WRC debut on a challenging rally.
Declan Gallagher led from start to finish in the National, with Mickey Conlon claiming second after
setting some very quick times in the afternoon. John Lynch rounded off the final step of the podium.
Aaron McHale took Group N honours after chipping away and Brendan Cumiskey’s lead for most of
the day. Cumiskey, who had been leading for most of the rally, had to settle for second. Ernie
Graham won the Historic category from Gareth Lloyd with Joe Connelly third. In the Junior Rally,
Vincent McSweeney and Michael Kearney took the spoils, Richard Moore and Brian Halligan were
second and Conor McCarthy and Dylan Coffey were third – all driving Honda Civics.
Next on the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Rally Championship calendar is the ever-popular
West Cork Rally on the 14th and 15th of March.
Text: Aaron McElroy
Images: David MacLachlan