IT'S been a great year for the local riders on the national scene, and the success that they gained was hard-earned and well deserved. There is nothing better during a day's racing to see local riders take the chequered flag and to see the delight on their faces at the end, and this year I have no doubt who are my top five local riders.
1st Keith Costello
There are a few who dislike Classic racing, but those that do were amazed this year, as the 350 class produced some of the best racing of the season, and the top man at the end was Skerries rider Keith Costello. Keith started seven out of the eight meetings of the year, as he was away for the Bush, and with the exception of the Armoy event that was run in torrential rain, where Keith finished third, he went on to win the other six, and in the past two years he has only been beaten twice on the roads in the 350 class. Keith started the season at the Cookstown when he beat his old sparring partner Alan Brew by just 0.276 of a second, and at the Tandragee the following week he again beat Brew. The Mid-Antrim was the first national after the TT, and again Keith took the win by out-braking his great friend Barry Davidson at the final corner to take the win. Missing from the grid at the Bush races the following week, we saw Barry Davidson close the championship gap, but at the Skerries normal service was resumed when another close finish was the order of the day, Keith getting the better of Barry on the final lap. Walderstown saw Davidson fail to finish and Keith take another win, from Brew and Denis Gallagher, while the torrential rain at Armoy saw Keith finish third in a race that really shouldn't have been run. Killalane was the final race of the year, and again the great battle between Keith and Barry came down to the final corner, with Keith again taking the chequered flag. In doing so he trimphed in the Classic Clubs Championship, along with the Ulster and Southern Centre Championships, the Loughshinny Clubs Championship and - to cap off a great year - retained his Irish Championship. Next season Keith will not be on the grid, as he has decided to take a year out. His clean racing style will be definitely missed, but there is no doubt that he is my local rider of the year.
2nd Andy Farrell
Andy Farrell got his season off to a terrific start by winning the first two 400 races of the year at Cookstown and Tandragee, and at the Mid Antrim he again took the honours. Giving the Bush a miss, Andy's next outing was at the Skerries, and while leading the race his trusty Kawasaki engine blew up, handing the victory to David Yeomans. Getting a loan of his old bike from Derek Scuffil, Andy took the win at Walderstown, but at the Armoy event his Kawasaki again blew up. Despite a nasty crash at the Ulster Grand Prix in August that forced the Skerries rider to sit out the Manx Grand Prix, Andy returned to Killalane to take the win in the final race of the year. Securing the Irish Championship, Andy finished runner-up in the Loughshinny Championship, and takes my second place in the best local riders.
3rd Micko Sweeney
Micko Sweeney was better prepared for this season, and he announced his team plans early in the year, which saw his 600 Yamaha and 1000 BMW decked out in the MJR (Martin Jones) Racing banner, and his 650 in the colours of Keily Heating. Riding in the top Open class on the Irish roads is a tough challenge, and the talented Skerries rider is well up to the challenge. At the Cookstown he took third place in the 650 class after lying second until the last lap when Jamie Hamilton squeezed past to take the runner-up place on the podium. At the Tandragee Micko scored a fine sixth place in the 600 and in the 650 class he had the loan of Peter O'Flaherty's slower Suzuki as his new Kawasaki was away getting work done on it for the North West, and again he finished sixth. At the International North West he scored a fine eighth place in the 650 race and ninth in the 600. Two more excellent weeks at the Mid Antrim and Bush races saw Micko on the rostrum twice, and for the rest of the season Micko scored top-six places at all the National races, and at the Ulster Grand Prix he won the B race in the 600 Supersport race two. Like all riders, Micko looks to the Manx Grand Prix as his priority, and as the winner of the Junior Manx a few years ago he was looking for more success with his 650, while he also rode for top local sponsor Martin Bullock in the Junior and Senior races. Lying second in the Junior race, he was unlucky when he had to slow with a problem that was later diagnosed as head stock bearing collapsing on his 600 Yamaha, and yet he still finished seventh. He had a brilliant second place in the ill-fated 650 race and in the Senior race, run in terrible conditions, he finished in a lowly 12th place. Micko is one of the few riders who are good on the roads and the Short Circuits, and he scored great results, especially in the 650 class.
4th Peter O'Flaherty
Lusk rider Peter O'Flaherty came so close to winning the Irish Championship at Killalane, and were it not for factors outside his control he would have secured a title that he really deserved for all his hard work during the season. At the Cookstown Peter took the chequered flag, but the race win went to English rider Scott Campbell who started from the second group. A non-starter at the Tandragee, Peter had a bad day at the Mid Antrim, finishing in his worst position of the year in 12th place. However, the following week at Bush he took his first win on the roads. He followed this up at the Skerries, again taking the chequered flag. At Walderstown he took third after a great scrap with Mark Shiels, and he finished third again at Armoy. Coming into the last race at Killalane he was locked in a great battle with Ronnie Scott for the Irish Championship. The Junior Support was red-flagged twice, with Peter lying second in both of the races, and under the rules the riders had to be sent back to the paddock. When the race eventually went ahead, Pater was battling for the lead with Dave Butler, and under braking at Carney's tree Peter was pushed up the slip road by Butler, and while he was able to rejoin the race in sixth, the shortened race saw him finish in the same place and the Championship went to Mark Shiels. Apart from his great season, the Lusk man gave his 600 Yamaha to Michael Dunlop, who went on to win the 600 race at the TT on the same bike, and I am delighted to give Peter my fourth place in the local riders.
5th David Yeomans
During the year David 'Yomo' Yeomans restricted his outings, for both financial and work reasons, but when the Skerries rider did take his place on the grid in the 400 class, he was in excellent form. In his first outing of the year at the Tandragee he was narrowly beaten by his near neighbour Andy Farrell, and at Skerries he scored his second win on his local course. At Walderstown the following week he again finished second to Farrell. The Manx Grand Prix saw the popular Skerries rider take an excellent fifth place in the 400 race, and at Killalane he was again pipped by Andy Farrell in another close race but still clinched the Southern Centre Championship. Yomo is a rider who loves the 400 class, and while his Honda is not the quickest bike in the race, he makes up for that with his stylish riding which makes him one of the most popular riders in the paddock. Keep 'er lit!
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