Just for a moment, the World Rally Championship was forgotten in favor of the Pallas Kart track south-east of Galway. Ott Tänak, Thierry Neuville and Craig Breen were all talking about one entry on last weekend’s Tynagh Rallysprint in Ireland.
The driver? Patrick Croke. Paddy.
For those of you who don’t know Paddy, he’s one of Breen’s closest friends. And, aged 33, he made his rallying debut aboard a Citroën C2 VTR at the all-asphalt two day event. Where did he finish?
“I’m not sure,” he told DirtFish, “somewhere in the top 100.”
The result couldn’t have mattered less. What mattered most was the realization of a dream that helped him escape a nightmare.
Paddy’s a 33-year-old cerebral palsy sufferer whose mentally handicapped brother Seamus died in his sleep in April. Seamus was 24.
“I’m not going to lie to you, it was a dark time when we lost Seamus,” Croke told DirtFish. “I’d been planning to make this rally car with a couple of mates Peter Brennan and Sean Cahill since the start of the year. But when Seamus died, I couldn’t have cared less about the car. It was a nightmare. It still is, every day is hard, but things like this help.
“Pete and Sean, they saw what was happening to me and they got the car sorted.”
The car was built and modified to include a hand controller for the throttle and brake by Cahill’s father’s company NCRS Motorsports.
“Those boys and this sport revived me,” said Croke. “You know that Craig Breen turned my life around and he’s like brother to me – I can’t thank those fellas enough.”
With the Citroën finished Paddy put an entry in for the Tynagh Rallysprint. And that’s when Breen and his Hyundai colleagues started talking and sending messages.
“To get a message from Ott and Thierry was unbelievable,” he said, “that’s thanks to Craig. He’s done so much for me. Driving to the start of the first stage was incredible.
“This was a lifetime ambition for me – it was the happiest I’d ever felt. Unbelievable. There are times when I think about Seamus that I feel guilty [about being happy], but honestly, I was on cloud nine for the whole two days. And I’m still there now.”
And his first two days as a rally driver weren’t entirely straightforward.
“We had a spin and the bonnet came up on one stage,” he said. “It was a good test. To be honest, I wasn’t looking at the times at all, not a bit. I was just enjoying the fact that I was driving a rally car. The boys were a bit quicker than me at the weekend, but I’ll be getting after them at the next event.
“Sean’s done an incredible job with the car, it’s absolute fantastic. Obviously we’ve got the modifications in there and I know, if I crash, I have to get myself out sharpish – it’ll be a case of swinging the legs over the cage and pulling like hell.”
While he hasn’t driven before Croke has competed alongside his father Pat Croke and, most recently, with Breen – the pair finished third in a MkII Escort on the Raven’s Rock Rally.
“I’ve wanted to drive a rally car all my life,” said Croke. “I’m not saying I’m at Mr Breen’s level just yet and I don’t know that I’ll get there, but this was great for me.
“My world turned upside down in April and what happened last weekend, well, I can’t tell you how much it helped for me. And I have to say, a huge thanks to my mam, dad and brother Sean for everything they’ve done for me and been through as well.”
Shortly after winning Rally di Alba, there was more good news for Breen.
“I checked the phone and saw he’d finished,” the Hyundai star told DirtFish. “He sent a message to our group the night after it finished, he was in bed at eight o’clock completely knackered. I’m so happy to see him out and I’ve no doubt this will be the first of many for him.”