By Martin Walsh
DUE to their range in ages and their differing circumstances, there aren’t that many occasions where the Cronin brothers – Keith, Daniel, Robert and Colin – can often discuss motorsport as a group.
Each of the four is different but the common denominator is their father Danny, whose passion for the sport is endless.
Keith is the four-time British champion and also an Irish Tarmac champion, Daniel has won his local rally (Fastnet) along with other events in counties Kerry and Clare while fledglings Robert and Colin have really only started to clock up the laps in their karting careers.
National school days for Keith, Daniel and Robert were in Coomhola in the Borlin valley, Robert spent his last few months in Kealkill NS before beginning his secondary school education in Bantry while Colin is still a pupil in Kealkil National School.
Unlike now where WRC is readily available on a mobile phone, it wasn’t even on television when Keith’s interest began through his father and, of course, his uncle Denis. It was much the same for Daniel.
Much has happened since Keith’s first rally – the Carrick-on-Suir Forest Rally in 2004. Some eight years later Daniel made his debut in the same event while around 18 months ago Robert and Colin began karting in Mondello Park.
All four played – Robert and Colin are still playing – with St Colum’s GAA.
Aside from underage it was much later in life when Keith had a taste of the Carbery Division Junior 3 while Daniel played until U21s, losing a West Cork minor final by a point; years earlier he won a county medal at underage level. The younger boys also play soccer with Bay Rovers. All four are interested in rugby but only as a spectator sport, Premier League football is also on their radar. In addition, Daniel expresses a strong interest in darts all of which means motorsport isn’t necessarily on the radar 24/7.
Sitting at the Cronin kitchen table on a winter’s evening in late November, there’s a lot going on and Keith is typically analytical. When asked is his rallying career over, he responds. ‘It’s over in terms of what I was doing,’ Keith replied.
One gets the impression that should he ever return it would only be for fun. Of course, there is a view that no person rallies for fun, but one can see from his perspective, it would be for a sense of enjoyment away from his normal daily routine of continuing to build the family business.
But you never know really. Around three weeks ago he returned to the family home in Ballylickey and informed his parents, Danny and Jackie, and all others present that himself and Glengarriff native Linda Downing had got married the previous Friday in Dublin. In many ways it sums up Keith Cronin, a person that likes to do things with minimum fuss. (We wish both of them endless happiness).
A number of years ago Keith gave this newspaper a very frank interview about scaling the heights of the World Rally Championship. There is a strong view all around the country that he was (is) the most natural and quickest driver Ireland has ever produced since Billy Coleman.
At the time comparisons were being made with Waterford’s Craig Breen, who was with the Citroen World Rally team. Cronin’s view was that if he were in the same position as Craig, he would have done exactly the same.
As an accountant Keith was always very aware and conscious of finance, the idea of spending millions (at least, well over €5 million) never sat comfortably with him. There is a limit to obsession and desire.
Daniel would like to emulate Keith as an Irish Tarmac champion and not having done many gravel events, the British Rally Championship is not on his bucket list, for the moment at least. A round of the WRC, should it come to this island, is far more realistic. Meanwhile Robert and Colin are happy to stay karting, but one can see that rallying will be a natural progression.
The quartet is unanimous in that their father Danny is the most passionate of all the family about motorsport.
‘He was the biggest influence,’ Keith said.
Daniel is more to the point: ‘It’s (his interest) crazy really.’
Robert always thought that he would have to wait until he was older to get into the sport through autocross but admitted that Danny fast-forwarded the idea via karting. Colin acknowledged that Danny is the boss when it comes to motorsport.
Keith admits that before he gets back to rallying as a means of relaxation, he needs to see the transition period through.
‘I think I would still want to be competitive.’
That is a view shared by Robert when asked about karting. ‘We want to win,’ he said.
While Keith has enjoyed great success, the others still want to do their own thing, but there is a sense of admiration.
‘It was serious (winning the BRC) and a big achievement, especially as he hadn’t done some of the events before,’ said Daniel.
Robert was just five and Colin was one year old when Keith became the first Irish driver since Billy Coleman to win the title, so their memories are through videos/cds.
Although Keith has never seen his younger brothers in action on the karting circuits, Daniel has witnessed both and makes some interesting observations.
‘Yes, they have the speed okay, but Colin gets a bit worked up, he can be hard to deal with if things don’t go his way,’ Daniel says, to a collective laugh from all four brothers.
Robert quips: ‘The only one that can deal with him is Dad!’
Daniel interjects again: ‘If the day is going right though he is in mighty form.’
Keith heads up the Cronin family of ten children that also includes Michelle, Daniel, Lisa, Kelly, Jessica, Aoife, Sinead, Robert and Colin. Jessica has shown an interest in karting but there is another group laugh when it comes to Aoife, whose talents were hailed, particularly close to home, but that’s a different tale.
The ten-year crystal ball came out with Colin admitting he would like to be an Irish karting champion by 2029. Robert was less predictable and said, ‘I don’t look that far ahead.’
Daniel remarked, ‘If I got an Irish Tarmac Championship title within that time it would be nice.’
At the time Keith had other things on his mind and he certainly wasn’t going to let us in on his good news.
They all agree that their mother Jackie is not a good motorsport spectator and that their uncle Denis is a hero. All four stated too they are Manchester United fans and really what better way, for now, to end the chat around the Cronin table.