Donnelly has high hopes for Cork '20' International rally
It has been a frustrating stop-start season for Eugene Donnelly.
Plans to chase a record fifth successive Tarmac rally championship crashed and burned almost before they were off the drawing board as the credit crunch bit and funding sources dried up.
Donnelly was left to kick his heels on the sidelines as Eamonn Boland succeeded him as the Irish champion, a one-off winning appearance on his favourite Donegal International in a once unloved and uncompetitive Skoda Fabia only serving to emphasis what might have been.
The five-in-a-row record may have been lost forever but Donnelly still harbours hopes of returning to challenge Boland for the title next season - which is why the Maghera man made the surprise decision to add his name to the starting list for this weekend's Cork '20' International.
"It's the last rally of the season, the last chance to get out and give the Fabia a competitive run before we decide where we're going next year," he explained.
"Cork is one of the cheaper rounds of the championship to do and, quite honestly, it costs almost as much to keep the car sitting in the workshop as it does to bring it out on a rally like this.
"The Fabia was superb in Donegal but that rally was cut short because of the fatal accident and we'll never know what might have happened if it had run the full distance.
"Nothing has been decided about next year yet but the Cork rally will give us a further guide to its potential. I felt really comfortable in it in Donegal and I think it surprised a lot of people.
"We'll see what happens this weekend and then look to put together a package for next season."
Cork will be a victory parade for Wexford veteran Boland who wrapped up the championship with his fourth win of the season in Ulster last month.
But, with his S12B Subaru due to be transported to Spain early next week for Rally Catalunya starting on Thursday, he will be looking for a drama-free weekend despite the presence of Donnelly and the MacHale brothers, Gareth and Aaron, in this Ford Focuses.
Former World production champion Niall McShea makes a rare home appearance, helping to develop the last Group N Subaru, the N14, for Irish tarmac for constructors Prodrive.
For fellow Ulsterman John McGlaughlin the rally represents a last chance to claim the production championship but he must win and hope that current leader Kevin Kelleher fails to finish.
It is a similar picture in the Irish Ford Fiesta Trophy series with champion Alastair Fisher needing to take first place with young Welshman Elfyn Evans down the finishing order.
The Irish Mitsubishi Challenge series will also be decided with long-time leader Alan Carmichael trying to fight off the chasing group led by Brendan Cumiskey and the fast-finishing Brendan Tourish.
Extra interest is provided by the first appearance anywhere of the new Super 2000 Opel Corsa which will be driven as a course car by former Tarmac champion Austin MacHale. It is thought to be targeted on next season's Intercontinental Rally Challenge, possibly in the hands of Gareth MacHale.
Top of the Cork entry list: 1 Gareth McHale (Ford Focus); 2 Eamonn Boland (Subaru Impreza); 3 Eugene Donnelly (Skoda Fabia); 4 Aaron McHale (Ford Focus); 5 Niall McShea (Subaru Impreza N); 8 Liam McCarthy (Toyota Corolla); 10 Damien Tourish (Mitsubishi Lancer N); 11 Kevin Kelleher (Mitsubishi Lancer N); 12 John McGlaughlin (Mitsubishi Lancer N); 14 Alan Ring (Subaru Impreza N); 15 Owen Murphy (Mitsubishi Lancer N); 16 Brendan Cumiskey (Mitsubishi Lancer N); 17 Alan Carmichael (Mitsubishi Lancer N); 18 Stanley Ballantine (Mitsubishi Lancer N).