Friday 17 January 2020

'Grassroots shows way forward for our sport'

Thomas O’Grady in action at a recent trial in the Dublin Mountains. Photo Jess White
Thomas O’Grady in action at a recent trial in the Dublin Mountains. Photo Jess White

Jack Corry - Corry Corner

It is somewhat frustrating to go and interview a rider about his plans for the new season, and see the complete frustration that he feels - despite having exciting plans and a new venture.

But Lusk rider Thomas O'Grady sees a lot of doom on the horizon for the sport in general in Ireland, and thoughts of throwing in the towel on his racing almost came to fruition some time back.

While I wanted to concentrate on his new venture, we threw back the conversation to the past few seasons, and he didn't hold back on his views on the way the sport is going.

'The powers that be really should be looking at promoting the sport, as there are far too many championships,' he began.

'There is no Irish Superbike as the two centres have their own, there are too many championships in Moto X with the Irish, Ulster and Southern, and that is the same on the roads.

'Why in the name of the sport don't we have just an Irish Championship, with equal amount of rounds in the Ulster and Southern Centres, like an eight-round championship, that will encourage the riders to travel from both centres and carry prestige at the end of the season.

'I can't speak for road racing as I don't do it, but I see all the problems about classes being dropped and too many events together on social media.

'But getting back to the Irish Superbike Short Circuit Championship, it is wrong that the likes of Ali Kirk, Gerard Kingham and Carl Phillips don't come to Mondello, or our riders travel North.

'With the one-tyre rule in Mondello and a separate USBK championship, I feel there is little prestige, even for me getting third in the Mondello Masters. It just doesn't feel right without our best riders on the grids.

'We can still have a few open non-championship meetings, but forget about the likes of the Southern and Ulster championships, and have the Sunflower as your season finale.'

Getting to the plans for 2020, Thomas is going to have a busy season as he will combine certain Moto X events with his short circuit plans, and he said: 'I have been practising hard at Moto X and I am just back from Magilligan MX Park. With the sandy track, you can go there most weekends, and I will continue there until March, and then I am going to Spain with the R1 for my annual pre-season test.

'With regard to the Moto X, there is a company called Kollective who specialise in clothing and tattoos, and the Moto X is solely her gig. Niamh Cunningham is the lady in charge, and she hails from Lusk, with her business in Ballymun.

'We are going to select a number of events here and possibly in the UK. We did a charity race down in Athlone for the Children's Hospital, and I finished in the top three in the Long Cross and the Moto X, and she sponsored the weekend. She also sponsored the Oval race, which was an evening race, with two British champions present and Jordan Scott who is the Irish Enduro champion and does a lot of extreme events, along with Stuart Edmonds.

'I finished second in all my heats and third in my semi-final on Peter McMahon's 250 two stroke, and we had a ball.'

I put it to Thomas that he seemed to have rekindled his love for Moto X - although he was never far away from his first love in racing - and he said: 'I took a step away from Moto X owing to family issues, but I never sold the gear, and while I was never supposed to be able to ride following my serious injuries I came back and finished second in the A championship in 2007.

'But I had a chat with my mam and teammates. The dreaded recession was coming in, in 2008. Everything was going downhill. The passion for racing was gone, and while you were winning races there never seemed to be the slightest respect for your success.

'At the end of the year, where I finished second in the championship, we went down to a hotel for the awards presentation. This was a complete joke,. There was no PA, a sh***y banner on the stage, only a few seats, and it was like a roll call - come up and collect your medal.

'Niamh came to two events, and despite no motorsport background she saw an opportunity to advertise her products and brands within the paddocks and the sport, but also to try and help it grow, as we know that there is so much there.

'There is always good people in the sport, and you only have to look at the likes of companies that have stayed in the sport, likes transport companies, plumbing and so on, and you only have to look at another former local racer - Stephan Byrne and his Rethink Graphics company - who is still involved with the sport and benefiting as well.

'I have said it for the last 10 years, that the sport is dying on its feet. Just look at the Masters - it is dead in the water. Really they are running a whole lot of nothing, and at the end of the year nobody gives a s*** what trophy you have in your hand as there no prestige there any more, and like I said no Irish Championship any more.

'Moto X has a whole lot of nitty gritty things going on. It has a Southern Centre, Ulster and Irish status, and some other championships in there as well. The slower riders don't want to ride the Irish Championship events because they feel intimidated and because it is faster, and the faster riders won't compete in the Southern championship because they see it as a waste of time as the grids are smaller and there is no challenge, and yet the clubs also need the support.

'We can still run fun events like the Moto Circus, and a few club events if we concentrated solely on an Irish Championship, as there is no pressure at fun events, and like the one in Doon, where the place is rammed with riders, it's great craic and a fun weekend. There is no pressure for a result and that is what the sport used to be like.

'I now go to trials events and you will help the lad beside you to get through the day, even though you want to beat him, but that's the way to have your enjoyment and the way Moto X used to be.

'I see kids running around trials events and all everyone wants to do is help each other and have a great day. They join together to have training days, which never used to happen at Moto X. Every chance I get I go to a training day and it helps me learn different things.

'A number of years ago I heard the statement that road racing was the shop window of our sport, and I personally think that this is wrong. It has to be the grassroots that it starts from. You bring a child to an event and that memory never leaves him.

'Just look at the support in the Auto class with the six and seven-year-olds competing - it's the way to go. At grassroots events you go with your mates, race hard and possibly have the bragging rights at the end of the day.'

Getting back to the short circuits, I asked Thomas about his feelings on the whole scene.

'At the end of the day I can't class the Masters Superbike championship as a notch on my racing belt, despite finishing third, and this is where I am torn between next year. Do I spend all this money to get a decent bike ready to rock and the money to run the full championship, and at the end of the year only race against half of the top riders in the country?

'We have been talking about this and they don't class the Masters and we don't class the USBK as a proper result, and they are dead right. We are both right. Tomorrow I go to a Christmas trial, and while it's a fun event it also carries prestige and bragging rights.

'I have spoken to Peter, my main sponsor, and we are still torn as what to do. Mondello have taken this Dunlop deal and have split the sport, and the Ulster Superbike are running their own. Some people seem to forget that we are the riders, and all the money that we put into racing means nothing. We have no rights, no say, no nothing.

'Mondello have taken this money from Dunlop and we really haven't seen anything from it. The prize-money is atrocious, with only €180 for a Superbike win. That doesn't even cover a back tyre for the race.'

For all that, Thomas is looking forward to the challenge this season, with the fitness programme I've previously reported on and the input from Niamh.

'Like Niamh, UCD has no real knowledge of motorsport racing, and they see this as an opportunity to get involved with the sport. It is great to have new blood getting involved, and UCD can't get over how badly run and funded the whole sport is, and can't believe that there are no grants available for elite riders.

'They are bringing science into the sport, and have tested a number of riders recently through the work of former rider Keith Tiernan. This year they have two, Conor Dunne from Enduro and me from the Moto X and Short Circuit.

'Believe it or not, a 12-lap race around Mondello on a big bike is hard work, with the ups and downs of the hills and short straights. It's high intensity and this work with UCD will help on the principle of more lung capacity. The science that is now involved is amazing and the way the UCD science works is that they advise you the way to train.

/'I will have the results from my fitness test soon, and they will point me in the right direction, like more of this and less of that. It's a lifestyle thing and not really a dietary process. This has really kicked me into gear to get my act together.

'To finish my career I would really like to have some recognised championship, as I really see no future for riders coming through. Just look at the great riders we have in this country.

'It's like putting a lot of serious students through a college programme and at the end of it don't give them a certificate. It's really cruel.'

It is frustrating to listen to Thomas, and I mean this in such a good way, as the points that he has raised are so true, and yet we are still stumbling along, year after year, with no real sign of progression.

His thoughts on the championships are also 100% right, but how are things going to change?

Years ago the old British Championship looked dead in the water, but then a whole revival came through with the BSB, and full television coverage, and look at their events now, getting over 40,000 at some of their events.

I don't think we will ever get to that stage, but, as Thomas said, it's positive progression that we need.

Fingal Independent