Choosing when to retire from professional sport is a dilemma that afflicts all athletes. Paul Nagle had mulled it over and decided last weekend’s Rally Spain would be his last in the World Rally Championship.
What would he be leaving behind? Plenty. World championship rallying is an adventure like no other and offers its participants the opportunity to push themselves to the very limit. The WRC is a drug that can’t be replicated anywhere else.
But he’d be trading that in for something equally as special. And seeing that first-hand in the Salou service park really hammered that home.
“Daddy!” shouted Nagle’s son as he ran towards his father for a warm embrace. Swiftly he was raised into the air and wrapped in Paul’s arms.
Glancing at his watch as all co-drivers do when in service, the moment was soon over. But Nagle couldn’t be clearer where his real priorities rested.
“No regrets,” he said.
There comes a time when family trumps everything in somebody’s life, and Nagle has reached that crossroads. Yes, he could keep living his boyhood dream and earn a few more bob for his efforts, but that would jeopardize seeing his children grow up. And much like Sébastien Ogier, Nagle simply wasn’t prepared to do that.
That’s not to say that he won’t miss the WRC though, because of course he will. Charging down towards the final stop-line of his WRC career, the emotion began to hit Nagle as he and Breen shared a moment in the car.
“Yeah, of course I would be [emotional because] it’s been my rallying career for the last 20+ years. It’s more than half my life in this sport,” he told DirtFish.
“So, it was bound to have some emotion. But I’m only human at the end of the day so I expected that.
“But I’ve really enjoyed my career; it’s been a rollercoaster of a journey. As I think I said on live TV, I came here as a young lad chasing a dream and after five wins, 18 podiums, a husband, a father, and friends and memories that will last a lifetime and I can look back and cherish all those for years to come.”
Soon after facing us in the media zone, it was off to park the car back in service where there was another surprise in store: a guard of honor as Breen pulled the Puma in. That warm reception was befitting of a co-driver who had given so much in his pursuit of greatness.
“I didn’t realize it at all this weekend, I’ve seen some huge support here and there’s been a lot of appreciation the last couple of days, so I must’ve done something right down through the years!” he said.
Nobody is sadder to see him go than Breen.
“It hit me a bit more when we were heading into the start of the last stage that, at least at this level, I’m not going to be listening to him in the car anymore. It’s sad, I have to say,” Breen told DirtFish.
“But I want to thank him for all the work that he’s done over the last couple of years with me. It’s more or less 10 years now on and off that he’s been working with me.
“He’s turned into a brother, honestly. I spend more time with him than anyone else in my family, or friends, or anything. So, thanks to him.
“Also, thanks to his wife Cathy, who’s pretty much raised all the kids at home for the last couple of years while she’s let Paul go off and follow his dream here.
“I have to be thankful for everyone and I’m going to miss them, definitely.”
It’s a brotherhood that’s felt on both sides of the car.
Nagle added: “Craig, in very difficult circumstances in 2012, no-one could ever be prepared for that. No co-driver would be prepared to deal with a very delicate situation, and I managed the best I could with Craig.
“From then on we became very close and were like family. Craig’s mother and father brought me in as one of their own as well and I really looked after him.
“At that time, I probably had more experience than back then when he was a young 19-20-21-year-old maybe. But we went our separate ways; I went back with Kris [Meeke], got a couple of rallies with Andreas Mikkelsen and we came back in 2019 in the Irish championship.
“That was after a very difficult time in Citroën, and he resurrected my career back in Ireland and it took off from there, getting podiums, and I thought maybe at the end of ’18, halfway through ’18, I thought my career was over in the world championship.
“But he brought it out of the woodwork again and we took off with the Hyundai and had some fantastic podiums and some fantastic battles in Estonia with Ott Tänak and Ypres with Thierry Neuville. You forget all these ones now and you look back maybe in months to come, so they were cracking rallies and cracking results.
“So, for me, I’d be involved with Craig as long as he wants me involved. I’m going to Japan; I’ll probably be there in Monte to help him along. Our relationship will last longer than just co-driving.”
And that’s precisely what makes this the perfect time for Nagle to step down. He’s recognized now, at 44 years old and with a world title not likely in the next couple of years, is the time to give back to his family who have been sacrificed at times in order for Nagle to live his dream.
But you can take the man out of rallying but not rallying from the man.
“I wouldn’t think so, no,” he said when it was put to him that his rallying journey is far from over.
“What I’m going to do next… I don’t know when I’ll put on the helmet again, but the future is there, there’s a lot of possibilities; I’ve a lot of experience.
“I hope to stay involved in the sport and put something back into the sport that’s given me so much.”
The only difference now is he can do that while not missing out on anything at home. And you can’t say fairer than that.
A nice meal back home in Killarney on Monday evening was the perfect way for a new chapter in Nagle’s life to begin.
Paul, we’d say we’ll miss you, but we’ve a funny feeling we’ll be seeing you soon enough…