Passion for motor sport sees Galway exiles return homeAugust 24, 2012 - 7:00am
FROM time to time, we can all get caught up in the mechanics of sport – winning, losing, performing – that the human side of it often escapes us. However, this aspect is certainly not lost on Galway emigrants Mark Gordon and Pat Conlon, both of whom are to return home from the UK and Australia respectively to compete in the Galway Summer Rally on Sunday.
It just underlines their love of motor sport that they are willing to go to such lengths to compete but both men would not have it any other way. For Conlon, it’s in the blood, having graduated from chasing the rear bumper of his uncle’s race car at seven years of age to calling the notes just six years later on a recce over Moll’s Gap in Kerry. For his navigator Gordon, rallying has been a fascination since childhood.
However, in both men’s cases, work has taken each abroad in recent times and it’s Gordon who Talking Sport catches up with first on one of the former Tynagh/Abbey-Duniry hurler’s monthly sabbaticals home. Gordon, who is based in Glasgow and works for ABP Food Group, moved to the UK last March and since then has been pining to return to the rally circuit.
“My parents (Michael and Dolores) have no interest in it but, from a young age, I can remember running through the fields to get a look at the rally cars,” begins the 24-year-old. “I started marshalling with Galway Motor Club when I was 17 or 18 and, then, sure you meet people. That is how I met my driver Pat. He is originally from New Ross in Wexford but he is married to a girl in Killimor. So, the friendship came about through rallying.”
It is during the course of this conversation that Conlon makes contact via mobile from Western Australia and explains he ended up in the East Galway parish because “the land is cheaper and she (his wife Wendy) didn’t want to move to Wexford!”
No doubt, you get the sense Conlon is a great character but one who is totally committed – almost fanatically so – to motor sport. “To be brutally honest, I have had jobs jeopardised because of it but I have to say, my wife keeps me on the toes.
“I remember one time, I had been competing a lot, and she said ‘come on, is it not time to settle down; is it not time to think about reducing the rallying?’ I told her I had been with her for 14 years but I had been going to rallies since I was seven years of age. That didn’t go down too well,” he says sheepishly.
For Conlon, then, to leave his wife and three children – Rebekah (7), Ellie (14 months) and Kristain (two months) – and the sport he loves to its very core behind to move to Australia last October was extremely difficult. However, it was a decision taken out of economic necessity. A former electrician with the ESB, he had followed the boom until the boom went bang.
He did return at Christmas from Down Under and, again, in March, when he picked up the family and took them to Australia with him. However, his family has now decided to remain in Ireland when they return next week. “There are different reasons,” he explains.
“One is that one of my children has mild learning disabilities and the education system over here, well, she is not benefitting from it. I never thought I would say this but our system is fantastic by comparison and you only see that when you go somewhere else. So, they will be going back to school [in Ireland] in September.”
As he stresses so many times throughout the conversation, it’s family first, even if this means another lonely spell in Australia without the family. “There are nights here when it is very dark and you are looking at the blocks in the wall. You might talk to family and friends through Skype but that can make it even more difficult.
“However, what I am thinking then, I know that by doing what I am doing, my family’s life will be better by 10-fold in five or six years' time. So, the sooner I am debt free, the better class of life my family will have. I know money doesn’t buy happiness but without it you will be sad,” says Conlon.
“I love Ireland though and I don’t want to stay in Australia any longer than I have to. I am estimating 12 to 18 months and then I will go home. I just want to clear the mortgage and be debt free. I can see though that these are bad times. I have been watching a lot of people come out here and some of them have lost their houses back home. It’s absolutely scary. Some of them come out with nothing, maybe just what little money they have in their pocket.”
In any event, he can at least look forward to a reprieve of sorts from life’s challenges when he returns to the rally circuit in Galway on Sunday. “I can’t wait to do the rally. I can’t wait,” enthuses the father of three. “There is something special about the rallying community in Ireland.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.