How do you begin to write about what Craig Breen meant to our world? How? It’s Craig Breen. He knew everything. He meant everything.
Craig knew the risks every time he pushed the start button on a rally car. But he also knew the rewards. And few in the world of rallying relished the rewards like he did.
I’m not talking titles, wins or statistics. I’m talking about the sort of person whose soul smiles every time fuel flows into six cylinders. Preferably in a vee and placed very much in the middle of a Metro.
Knowing Craig Breen was an absolute privilege.
He didn’t really see that. How could he? He was a fella from Waterford who liked driving cars and loved talking about rallying. But he didn’t just talk about it. He lived it, he breathed it and he absolutely loved it.
His passion for rallying was as all-consuming as it was absolute. From the moment his bedroom wall shook for the first time when his father Ray fired up the family Metro 6R4, Craig was destined for one place and one sport.
There’s so much I want to say here, so much love and so many stories to tell.
I don’t know where to start. Or what to say.
How can this be right? Thursday morning turned to Thursday lunchtime and everything was… well, it was just Thursday. The usual ins and outs of a DirtFish week, planning and plotting for next week.
Then the first call.
The second. And third.
It’s happening. The nightmare’s back. Another one. Gone.
But this is more than just another one. This is Craig.
A while ago, I wrote a line about another cherished and sadly lost friend, Henry Hope-Frost. When you saw H coming towards you, you knew your day was about to get better. It was the same with Breeny.
Those bright blue eyes would light up and start dancing. And the chatter would start. Rarely about the here and now. If Colin Clark was around, Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart wouldn’t be far away. My needs were also from the 1980s, but based, more predictably, around Group B and the Austin Rover Group.
We saw Craig in his darkest hour after he lost his best friend and co-driver Gareth Roberts in 2012, but we also saw him find his way back into the light. Standing on the podium in Wales months later, celebrating a second world title in as many years (WRC Academy in 2011, SWRC in 2012) was about as emotional as it gets.
It goes without saying Craig wanted to win a round of the world championship. He wanted to be a world champion. But you always got the feeling there was something bigger for him. I’m not sure I ever met another driver who could take as much pleasure from being in the service park and from driving a car, any car, as quickly as it would go.
It was that wider appreciation of what he was doing and where he was that that made a Circuit of Ireland win mean so much to Craig. That and the fact he was following in the footsteps of his childhood idol Frank Meagher.
It was the same thinking that took him and James Fulton to Cavan Motor Club’s Navigation Trial in February.
Regardless of who she was or where she was, she was always flat to the square right.
I’d honestly not expected to be talking Tennyson in a piece about Craig, but the thinking that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all has rarely held truer.
And our sport loved Craig Breen.
How could it fail to love a man whose heart was so big on his sleeve, there was barely room for his sponsors. It’s impossible not to think of his family at this time. Our pain is nothing in comparison with what they’re going through.
As well as being one of the world’s finest drivers, Craig was undoubtedly one of the world’s finest fellas. Watching him push his pal Paddy Croke around Poland in a wheelchair was testament to Breen’s kindness. The aching laughter that followed when Paddy ‘rolled’ the chair in the mud a day later, testament to their friendship.
For people, there was always time. Always.
My son Oliver was a huge Breen fan. Every time Ollie skipped school for Rally GB, he’d only be after one driver. And even when there wasn’t time, there was time – somewhere in Breeny’s phone there are a bunch of selfies he took with Ollie, pulling him into the car on a road section somewhere.
It’s impossible to take this one in. Just impossible.
What about the plans for the Metro, she was just back, or the Sierra and then the M3?
Does it help that Craig went doing precisely what he absolutely loved the most? Not right now, no. Does it help that he’s reunited with his best pal upstairs? Not right now, no.
Right now, nothing helps. Nothing can take away the pain of losing one of the absolute best of the best. Forget the stage times, forget the hits and the misses, on a human level, this one’s an absolute tragedy.
Rest easy, my friend.
Thank you for everything you did for me, for rallying and for the world.
We’ll never forget you.