Who listening to World Rally Radio last weekend hadn’t a lump in their throat hearing the emotion in Craig Breen’s voice, as he spoke so eloquently of the realisation of finally driving a works world rallycar on a world rally championship stage? Recalling his boyhood dream, the emotions almost bubbled over when he spoke about Gareth ‘Jaffa’ Roberts. It could have been all too easy for the emotion to overwhelm him, but Craig channelled it in a very positive way. He set times on the stages that made everyone realise this guy belongs here. Craig & Scott set a time that bettered triple world champion Sebastian Ogier, early on the Friday morning, which was a fantastic performance. By Sunday evening Breen had steered the car to a fine 8th overall, which was remarkable considering the limited testing he had before the event (approx. 70km) and in conditions that caught out many other seasoned competitors.
Craig has encyclopaedic knowledge of rallying, especially Irish Rallying. His boyhood hero Frank Meagher was, and still is, a hero to many Irish fans. Frank always seemed to be battling against technology as much as the other drivers, as the cars he drove were behind in the technology stakes. In 1986 Meagher won the Irish National Championship in the Escort, against Mantas, Chevettes, etc which had much better set ups and power. In 1987, rather than resting on his laurels and defending his championship, Frank went to the UK to compete in the British National Championship. With the majority of events taking place in the forests, Meagher once again impressed everyone in the Escort and finished the season a highly creditable 10th overall. In 1989 Frank truly entered legendary status in Galway. Mark Lovell was entered in the works Sierra Cosworth and was expected to be the class of the field. However, midway through Saturday Meagher was in the lead, capitalising on Lovell’s problems, to build up a sizeable lead. Unfortunately, Meagher’s lead was short-lived, as he arrived at last service on Saturday on a tow rope, after the Escort had lost oil pressure. As he was interviewed by Gary Gillespie for RPM, behind the disappointment the humour shone through. When asked what he would do if he had one of these modern cars, the reply ‘Take it handy and win every rally’ will go do as one of Irish Rallying’s greatest quotes!
By mid-1991 the Escort had been finally updated to a 2wd Sierra Cosworth. At this time most of the top drivers were upgrading to 4wd cars such as Sierras or Legacys. Coming into the 1992 Tarmac Championship, Frank was regarded by many as an outsider, with the perception being the 2wd Sierra would have problems beating the latest 4wd cars. Proving the doubters wrong, Frank won the Circuit of Ireland, and with more solid points as the year progressed. In 1993 the 3 door Sierra was replaced by a Sierra Sapphire 4×4, and then in 1994 by an Escort Cosworth 4×4. Frank rallied when finances and family time permitted. Family was a huge part in his life, and in many clips in service Frank had one child in his arms and another at his side, proving rallying didn’t get in the way of family life….it was part of it. He brought many blue chip sponsors to the sport, famous names like Lombard and Ulster (which used to adorn Adrian Boyd’s MKI Escort), and 2FM. With disc jockey Gareth O’Callaghan as his co-driver at this time, who had one of the biggest shows on 2FM (the National Broadcaster), it was no surprise the radio station became involved in the rally scene. In 1995 Meagher won the Tarmac Championship, with victories at the Manx, Cork 20 and Lakes of Killarney rallies. After a couple of quiet years, time which was used to build up the business, a comeback was planned for 1999, as an Ex-works Escort WRC arrived in Clooneen, and Meagher was once again popping and banging around the stages. In late 2000 the Escort WRC was replaced by a Focus WRC in time for the Cork 20, and a fine 4th was achieved by the finish on its debut. Plans were in place for an attack on the 2001 Tarmac Championship but foot and mouth disease decimated Irish Rallying that year.
As 2002 plans were being finalised, an entry was placed for the Circuit of Ireland. In preparation, a day of testing in a Sierra that Frank had for sale was planned. After the test a friend asked for a spin in the car and of course Frank obliged. Tragically, they had an accident and Frank lost his life.
I think it was Brian Patterson who wrote at the time that it was always Meagher’s dream to sign as a works Ford driver, and it was particularly poignant that Malcolm Wilson was sitting at the family kitchen table on the day of his funeral. Without a doubt Frank had many more good years in Irish Rallying ahead of him, but the memories and the legend lives on. So hopefully he’s taking it handy somewhere and showing the other heroes with him how to win rallies.
Thanks to Martin McCorriston (www.rallypics.org) for the use of the two Frank Meagher photos.