Comment: Everyone loved William Dunlop because we all felt a part of him
William Dunlop's racing career began almost 18 years ago at the old Aghadowey circuit in October 2000, and sadly ended on Saturday, July 7, 2018 during practice for the Skerries road races in County Dublin, and I am sure that I am the only journalist who was there on both occasions.
In between those milestones I have covered William's racing career and watched him grow from young schoolboy to becoming a doting father.
From April 2004, we at Road Racing Ireland have carried William's personal column over that 14 year period; in that time he penned 154 articles, only missing two last Christmas, when he was contemplating his racing future.
Unknown to many, William was only 15 years old when he ventured out on his racing debut that day at Aghadowey on his father Robert's 125 Honda.
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After William's three races that day, Robert said: "He's too 'green' at the moment but hopefully I can shape him up next year."
Shape up he did as the 'green' William went on to become the fourth most successful Irish road racer, just 16 victories short of his late dad's total, racing over a 28 year period.
Back in February 2004, I interviewed William for our March issue, and the shy 18-year-old was looking forward to only his second year in road racing with his 125 Honda and a new 600 Yamaha.
When William mentioned that he was headed over to Spain with his father and brother for a test, I asked him would he jot down how the test went and hence his first column appeared in Road Racing Ireland in April 2004, which must have made him the longest running regular motorcycle columnist.
Over those past 14 years I was in regular contact with William, discussing how each month went, and unlike other columnists today who dictate their words over the phone, William always insisted on filing his own words with him then regularly saying "now you will keep me right Leslie" as I checked it over.
Some fans would ask if I would consider jazzing up William's column a wee bit as sometimes he appeared to be too hard on himself, but I always refused as this was the real William Dunlop talking about his racing and how his life was shaping up each month.
We had some great times together as I personally organised for William to travel to Great Britain to gain more racing experience, with him winning races at Scarborough, Aberdare Park and Darley Moor.
There were, of course, sadder occasions, none more so than in May 2008 when he had to write about the death of his own father.
His opening line was: "I'm going to try my best and write this column without rambling on about the old man and say a few words about him.
"We have had some great riders in our sport and without being biased, Robert Dunlop was the best rider to come out of this country, bar none.
"He was probably the best two stroke rider to come out of Britain, he just never got the breaks in life to go to the world stage.
"I would just like to thank everyone for their support for my dad. He was a great man and as he said to me last year, 'I would do it all again. I know I'll be sore but it's worth it'.
"The only thing I regret, and he was right again, it's only human nature to take people for granted but I never told him how much I loved him. That's my only regret. I love you daddy."
His brother Michael won the 250 race at the North West 200 the day before Robert's funeral and William said: "What Michael did that day was unreal. I didn't think he had a chance of winning.
"I honestly thought he wasn't good enough but for the first time he rode that 250 well. I was really proud of him."
One of William's proudest days was two years ago this month when he himself became a father, and he only granted me permission to take the first public photograph of his little daughter, Ella, as he ironically said at the time he didn't want her growing up in the spotlight that he had inherited for so many years.
William said in his August 2016 column: "I became a dad to my beautiful daughter Ella, it was without doubt the best experience ever and really does put things into prospective as there's so much more to life than bikes.
"They really are irrelevant compared to this experience," he added.
William maybe didn't get the big breaks in motorcycle racing like his brother Michael, but everyone loved him because we all felt a part of him through reading his life story every month.
Sadly that has come to an end, but we will never forget William Dunlop.