Inside the ultimate Breen tribute drive

Mike Chen and Sean Hassett took on Raven's Rock Rally for their lost friend - and this is what it meant

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Where do you start? Actually, where do you stop? Craig Breen was, without a doubt, one of the world’s finest wheelmen. And a wicked wordsmith.

The gigglin’ pin fell out of the laughing shaft.

Of course it did.

But on April 13 this year, the world fell apart. The unthinkable, the unimaginable happened.

Nothing and nobody can fix what happened that Thursday in Croatia. The hurt is forever.

But days like Sunday can and will work on the pain of a broken heart.

Andy Fanning, Mike Chen and Sean Hassett stand up. Now take a bow. It’s easy indeed to talk – and type – about what Breeny meant to the world, to us all. But those three boys stopped talking and did something very, very special for their friend.

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They drove Craig’s rally. They reminded Waterford how to smile.

Fanning told DirtFish how the plan came about.

“Before I start,” Andy smiled, “should I not have a word with Chenny and Sean to make sure we’ve our story straight!

“I think it was around the time of the funeral, Mike and Sean had talked about wanting to do the rally in Craig’s memory. Chenny was talking about hiring a car. I was having the Škoda built, so I said to Sean: ‘Look, if my car’s ready in time you’ll be doing it in that – there’s no need to be hiring anything.’

“The next question was what to do with the livery. Somebody suggested the slogans, the words from Craig. Straight away, Sean said he would take care of that. And that’s how we got here. It’s such an emotional day, this was Craig’s rally and this is a great tribute to him. He was there with us, laughing his head off at us.”

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Listening in, Chenny smiled.

“There was a lot of stuff today,” he said. “A lot…”

Believer or not. There was a lot.

Filming some beauty shots for DirtFish’s video, we were out at the bridge over the River Suir just after dawn. The sun was nowhere to be seen, well and truly hidden behind thick cloud cover.

Cameraman Eliot Barnard flicked the switch on the Sony and ping, the sun just beamed on through. Battery level on the camera? 42%. What gate did Barnard’s plane leave from? Yep, 42.

By the end of the day Josh Moffett won his 42nd rally by 42 seconds.

Forty-two was, of course, CB’s WRC competition number.

CB? The initials of the marshal who signed Hassett’s first timecard on Sunday. Checking his phone, ahead of the start, Sean’s screen flicked straight to the admin section of Craig’s Facebook page.

“I haven’t been there since…”

The voice faded. Time to stop thinking. Time to get in the car.

Saturday evening’s ceremonial start in the center of Waterford delivered affirmation. People couldn’t get enough of the car.

“It was amazing,” said Chen. “People just kept coming and coming to get pictures of the car. It’s exactly what we wanted: it made people laugh, it made people smile. It made people think about Craig’s smile and his way of making us all laugh.”

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Laughing had to be a big part of the day. Craig’s great friend James Coleman (who also managed the Irishman for more than a decade) couldn’t agree more.

“Chenny and Craig, they were very, very close,” Coleman told DirtFish. “You’d be sitting with the pair of them and they’d just burst out laughing. ‘What? What are you laughing about?’ It was something they did yesterday. Or the day before. The pair of them would laugh for hours, for a whole day about something. Their personality was so similar.

“When he (Chen) asked about the quotes I sent him 15 or 20. There could have been more, so many more.

“S**t everywhere!

“That was the one that got me.

“Craig loved this rally, the Carrick-on-Suir club that organizes it, the place, the roads, everything about it. He would have watched his father Ray compete and win here and then he did the same. It’s a special one.”

Craig’s family home is just around the corner and these lanes are the lanes where Craig cut his teeth. Among other things.

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Forever keen to talk of her beautiful boy, Jackie told tales of Craig going to his first keyboard lesson and coming home with stitches across his forehead. He’d tripped going in and bounced off the keyboard.

Sunday was an amazing day. All that was missing was the boy. The man himself. And heaven knows how he would have loved it.

Having co-driven Craig to third place at the Rock in 2017, Patrick Croke offers sincere testament to how much it meant to him.

For those of you yet to meet Croke, you need to know three things about him: he’s known up and down Ireland as Paddy or Wack; he sits in a wheelchair and he loved Craig like a brother.

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His favorite quote?

“Will you get up out of that chair and walk!”

The bond between the pair was incredible. Brothers is about right.

“Craig asked me a few years ago: ‘Come on Wack, will I take you for spin in the rally car?’

“I thought it would be a run up the road. I didn’t know he’d organized this whole thing. It was a surprise for my 30th birthday, we were doing the rally together. That was the man.

“It was lunacy. It was magical.

“I remember coming into first service and Niall Maguire was up from Monaghan in his [Subaru Impreza] S12. He opened my door and said: ‘What are you after taking this morning?’

“Craig had asked me where I thought we might be in the results and I told him I hoped we’d be leading the class. He said: ‘You’re sitting third overall…’ I couldn’t believe it.

“I loved it when Craig came down here for the rally. He was away from the hustle and bustle of a WRC round, he could really relax. This is where he was with his family and friends.”

And forever he’ll remain among family and friends.

Especially the friends he held forever. Like John Boden. Bobo.

He and Craig sat next to each other from day one at school.

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“Primary school, secondary school, we were always together,” Bobo told DirtFish. “Everything he did, I did and everything I did, he did. It was always about the craic.

“Today? It’s heart-breaking. Just heart-breaking. I’ve been with Wack all day, but it would have been the three of us from the recce onwards. It’s just not right, not the same. It doesn’t feel real.”

Looking across at the still-straight Škoda Fabia sitting on the finish ramp, Bobo smiles.

“Fair doos to the boys though,” he said, “that’s just brilliant.

“What would Craig have said? ‘Ah sure, we’ll be grand.’

“Everything was always just grand.”

We know now, nothing will be quite so grand without Craig. Days like Sunday helped.

Take another bow Andy, Chendog and Seany.

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Before we go, I just want to mention one fella who couldn’t he home on Sunday: James Fulton. Craig’s co-driver was keeping the drive alive in Portugal alongside Kris Meeke, finishing the job he and Breeny started together.

Both would have brought plenty of memories and magic to Waterford on Sunday. And they will do again.

For now, how to leave this one? Back to the car. The Fabia’s bonnet.

“Craig Breen. A son, a brother, a boyfriend, a friend, an uncle, a godfather, a sportsman, a true legend. NEVER FORGOTTEN.”

Amen to that.