Richie Ryan roars as the season opens at Mondello Park
The 2019 Southern short circuit season got under way last weekend at Mondello Park and, thankfully, the weather was kind but chilly, and there was a great crowd on Sunday as Mondello had laid on a lot of extra entertainment.
Among the attractions were pit-bike displays and great skills from the brilliant stunt rider Mattie Griffin. He alone attracted a lot of the crowd for his three shows, but the main business for the riders was the first three rounds of the prestigious Dunlop Mondello Masters Championship.
Reigning champion Richie Ryan was in top-class form, taking all three Superbike race wins to cement his authority in Mondello.
As usual there were three races for each class, with one on Saturday and two on Sunday, with the exception of the 400 and Classic Superbikes who had their two races on Saturday.
There were a number of local riders in action for the first time this year, with Micko Sweeney giving his Keily Heating Supertwin a great start to the season.
Chris Campbell took both the Classic Superbike races on his 750 Kawasaki, while Stephen Tobin took the first of the Supersport 400 races, with Damien Horgan making up for his retirement in race one to beat Tobin to the line to take race two.
In the Junior Cup and Young Guns class, it was the same one, two and three in the first two races, with Alex Duncan taking his Kawasaki to the top of the podium, from Scott McCrory (Yamaha) and Rhys Coats in third on his Kawasaki.
In the final race it was a cracker, with Coates taking the win by just 0.550 of a second in only his second-ever race meeting, from Duncan, with McCrory just 1.072 seconds back in third.
The Principal Insurance-sponsored Pre-Injection class saw three different winners, with Colin Murphy taking race one from Darryl Sharkey and Mark Culleton. In race two it was Culleton who took the win from Murphy, with Sharkey just back in third.
In the final race Sharkey finally got his win from Culleton and Murphy.
There was a serious incident in the Sidecar class on Saturday that left the pole position team of former solo rider Phillip McNally and Hugh Smith in a serious condition after what looked like brake failure into the final turn.
Derek Lynch and Anthony McDonnell took the first race win from Peter O'Neill and Brian Butler, with the current champions, Dylan Lynch and Mark Gash, taking third.
In race two it was Lynch/McDonnell once more from O'Neill/Butler, with Mark Codd and Liam Gordon taking third.
It was the best field of national sidecars that I have seen at Mondello for many years, and in race three O'Neill/Butler finally took their race win from Lynch/McDonnell, with Denis Cusack and Corey Lynch taking third.
Micko Sweeney was flying in the first Supertwin race on the Keily Heating Kawasaki, and he was close to the lap record as he beat Eoin O'Siochru by 6.6 seconds, with Ross Irwin third.
In race two Micko was battling with the latest of the talented Irwin family for the lead, only to retire on lap 4, leaving Rush barber Vinny Brennan to take second, with David Halligan third.
Micko had more bad luck in race three, retiring on lap three. Once more it was Irwin who took the win from David Halligan, with Vinny Brennan third.
Jamie Collins is only into his second season but he took all three Production Twin wins with ease, while Noel Carroll took two of the three Superbike 'B' races, with Robert Toner winning the third race.
The normally close Supersport 600 didn't have the quality entry that we are used to, but this didn't stop the Young Rider of 2018, Caolán Irwin, taking a superb hat-trick of wins in a confidence booster before he starts his BSB Stock 600 season over Easter.
In race one and two it was Ray Casey who was second, with Mike Browne in third. In the final race, Luke O'Higgins was the runner-up, with Darryl Sharkey third, after Carey retired and Browne didn't even come to the line.
Richie Ryan knows his way around Mondello and the reigning Masters champion was in top form, taking all three race wins with relative comfort, with the exception of the final race.
In race one Ryan had 2.3 seconds to spare over the hard-riding Luke Johnston, with Peter Maloney third. Road racer James Kelly took fourth from Lusk rider Thomas O'Grady.
In the next race Ryan had nearly three seconds to spare over Johnston, with the next three the same as race one, but in the final race Peter Maloney pushed Ryan all the way, and Ryan's victory was by just 1.006 seconds, with James Kelly pushing Johnston into fourth and O'Grady fifth once more.
It wasn't the best of racing, to be honest, but it's the first event of the year, and hopefully there will be closer racing at the next round.
One thing of certainty is the quality of Richie Ryan, and the Kilkenny rider will take some beating around the Co Kildare course this season.