DECLAN Boyle is this week aiming to become only the third Donegal man to win the Donegal International rally outright.
In an event that has been running since 1972, only Dungloe man Vincent Bonner and Letterkenny’s James Cullen have corked the champagne at the finish ramp.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Bonner and Seamus McGettigan guiding the RS1800 to victory in 1983 – and how dearly the Lettermacaward man Boyle would love to add his name to that famous roster.
Bonner talks of the ‘special’ feeling that coursed through his veins in ‘83 and Cullen’s wins alongside Ellen Morgan in 1991 and 1999 remain the stuff of legend.
Boyle gets goosepimples when he thinks of what it would be like next Sunday if he and his trusted companion, his cousin Brian, are the first car over the ramp at the Mount Errigal.
“We have won a few rallies, but Donegal is the one. It’s great to win any rally, but to win Donegal is the big one,” Declan said.
The Boyles have moved up in the world since winning the national rally in Donegal twelve months ago. Then, they competed in a Mk II Escort, but they’re now going to battle in an S12B Subaru WRC.
On his debut in the car, Boyle took a dramatic victory in the Mor Oil Galway Summer Rally in August.
He feels in a good place heading into this week’s event.
He said: “We’re in a good place, but Donegal is three long days and there are a lot of things that can happen between Friday morning and Sunday evening. If we’re there on Sunday evening, we’ll not be far away.
“It’s a tall ask, but all you can do is drive as hard as you can and hope for the best.”
The Boyles are the second seeds for the Donegal Rally. They go second just behind the reigning champions, the WRC of Garry Jennings and Neil Doherty.
He said: “Garry is a good driver in a superb car. He is well used to the four-wheel drive car.
“He’ll be hard to beat – if he can be beaten at all. We’ll just try and keep the pressure on him.
“I am really looking forward to it. I can’t wait to get settled in and get a couple of stages out of the way and then attack it. It’s a long rally and we’ll take it one day at a time and hopefully keep the pressure on.
“It’s not just Jennings. You have Darragh O’Riordan, Donagh Kelly and the likes of Sam Moffett, Derek McGarrity and Darren Gass. Those boys know the Donegal stages inside-out and you can’t write any of them off.”
Boyle knows all about the pressure in Donegal.
Last year, he had a titanic tussle with Glenswilly’s Manus Kelly that went right to the wire.
“We had an unmerciful battle with Manus,” he said.
“I’ll never, ever forget it. Going into the last stage there was just a second in it. It was mighty stuff.
“We were leading by a big margin when I got a puncture on the first run around Atlantic Drive on the Sunday. Up to that, we were just trying to keep it clean and tidy.
“We thought we had the rally lost, but on Port Lake, the exhaust came off at the manifold. That was another kick in the teeth, but we were lucky to take two seconds out of Manus on that stage.
“Everyone watching would have thought it was gone.
“All we wanted was to hold it for ourselves – and we did it.”
This year will be his fifth time to tackle the Donegal stages. His previous runs were in the Escort, but now in the WRC he feels he’s back in the groove again.
After a frustrating couple of drives in Killarney and Monaghan when he went off, he was glad to get back to winning ways when he took victory in Cavan.
“We’re in a good place heading into Donegal after the good run in Cavan,” he said.
“we’re driving well and if we’re on that pace in Donegal hopefully we shouldn’t be too far away.
“You’re always waiting on these things to come in threes, but we went to Cavan and got all of that put behind us.”
On his home territory this weekend, Boyle is perhaps better placed than many of the native drivers who’ve attempted the feat.
Only Bonner and Cullen have succeeded and the gap to Cullen’s last triumph in 1999 is widening all the time. Paul Harris came close in 1997, but was edged by Austin McHale.
20 stages stand between him and the possibility of emulating the moments of ‘magic’ Cullen described.
Boyle knows what to expect.
He said: “What I noticed last year is that it’s flat out from the word go. Everyone talks about starting slowly and building up, but it never really happens that way.
“You could ease off on Friday and take it harder from Saturday.
“We have a different style of driving now too. The four-wheel drive is a different buzz. A lot of people said that we drove in Cavan like we were in a Mk II.
“You need to get a good, fast flow.”
He knows there’ll be nerves as he leaves An Grianan Theatre for the start ramp on Friday morning, but he’s well poised to add his name to an elite band of men.
Could 2013 be the year when another Donegal man pops the bubbly?
Boyle said: “The car is capable of doing it – but it’s up to myself and Brian.
“I can trust Brian 100 per cent. The car is in good shape too. It’s down to me to listen to the notes and take the car to its maximum.”
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