THERE is no doubt that John McCarthy’s biggest ever victory came in mid-October in 2006 some eight weeks after he won the Irish Forest Rally Championship.
It brought immense relief to the rallying and business communities but none more so, than to his family — wife Colette and their children Brian, James and Jennifer, but it was still just the beginning of a long journey towards rehabilitation.
He had decided after winning the Forestry series that he would give up rallying, his preference for forest rallying was borne from a business perspective.
Three weeks after his success in the National Forest series, he decided to compete in the Wexford Rally, a tarmac event. Unfortunately, his Toyota Corolla WRC hit a concrete post at 20pmh and he sustained serious head injuries.
The outlook was grim and John spent several weeks in a coma, but in mid-October, he regained consciousness and so began an epic journey on the road to recovery.
Determination, tenaciousness, sometimes stubbornness and the resolve never to give up and most importantly with the love and support of his family, John has recently returned to work as he continues that journey.
There is an impish smile when he reflects on his youthful days. He was, what people would call “a handy footballer” — a speedy half-forward, who won a Munster Colleges medal with Coláiste an Chroí Naofa (Carraig na bhFear). He also wielded the hurley for Carrigtwohill at underage level.
Yet, he took up pony riding and was a regular at Gymkhana events around Munster.
From one type of horse power to another, John began hot rod racing in 1981. Little over a decade later, he purchased the ex-Johnny Moloney Mk. 1 Ford Escort and competed in some local events. In 1984 and having switched to a Mk. 2 Group 1 Escort, he contested the West Cork Rally, seeded at 153 and co-driven by Cal Hennessy, he finished 20th overall.
In the Fota Rallysprint, he turned a few more heads by finishing third overall. A selection of local and national events were part of the agenda over the next few years with James O’Brien alongside.
In 1987, in a Group A Toyota and co-driven by Clare native David Hogan, he won the Davy Evans Memorial award on the Circuit of Ireland.
“Yes, that was nice because Davy was a hot rod champion”
John subsequently drove Luke McCarthy’s Vauxhall Chevette, the ex-Mike Dunnion car. “Luke was and still is a good friend and he obviously saw some bit of potential. I often wonder who had the brain injury as Luke trusted me with that car.”
That was in the 1989 West Cork Rally with the late Vincy Coughlan as his navigator.
His marriage to Colette brought a sabbatical before he returned to the woods where another friend, the late Tom O’Regan was his navigator, numerous class wins and some top finishes were almost routine.
Another sabbatical followed, this time, to allow him set up his own business.
Upon his return he campaigned a Group A Escort Cosworth but it proved unreliable.
In 2000, he acquired the ex-Dominic McNeill Ford Escort WRC (navigated by Dan Maguire), it was also his first taste of four-wheel drive - in a car - he was well acquainted with the tractor versions from the thriving McCarthy Agri Sales business.
In 2003, John purchased the ex-Bertie Fisher Group A Subaru Impreza.
“I left the championship behind me that year, one of my biggest failings was that I was always more interested in driving competitively rather than driving for results. I wanted to win every rally and be fastest on every stage. I would prefer to finish a good second than a poor first.
“That (Subaru) was the best car I ever had, but as technology advanced I wanted the joystick so I acquired the ex-left hand drive Austin MacHale Toyota WRC.”
After a few events and at the end of 2004, James O’Shea and Sean Hogan converted the car to right-hand drive.
With Waterford’s Mickey Joe Morrissey ensconced as co-driver, they had a reasonable run in the 2005 Forest Championship. But in 2006, they didn’t have the best of starts.
“When we went off and were parked up, Mickey Joe turned to me and said, John, this championship isn’t over at all yet. Those words rang in my ear and we went on to win it. I even beat Kenny McKinstry in Monaghan.”
Then aged 44, John had decided to call it a day. “But I wanted to do one last tarmac rally and we converted the car back to tarmac specification for the Wexford Rally.”
Having spent the majority of his rallying in the forests at high speeds between trees, it was ironic that his accident in Wexford happened at 20mph when his Toyota Corolla went off sideways into a concrete gatepost.
“They put me to sleep for six weeks, I was in hospital for six months. It was particularly hard on my family, and my friend James O’Shea was a great support to them and indeed myself and still is to this day.
“The most difficult thing for me was that we had built a huge business, we had 20 employees, 400 on account customers, I enjoyed my work.
“I am happy now, I have got over the disappointment of losing my business.”
Fortunately, his brother Tim kept it in the McCarthy name. John is back working for the first time in over 12 years.
He drives to Tallow to work with West Waterford Agri Sales, run by two of his former employees, John Keane and Sean Byrne. John McCarthy and his family have come through a tough time, they deserve happiness.