The passing of Willie McNeely marks the loss of a loyal friend to motorsport. To us involved in racing and rallying, Willie's interest in the sport ensured a generous share of airtime on MWR FM and also space in his weekly column in the Connaught Telegraph.
The annual Mayo Stages Rally, organised by Mayo & District Motorsport Club, the highlight of the motorsport season in the county was very dear to his heart as he recognised the importance of the event from a sporting and economic point of view. When asked to be the official starter of the Mayo Stages Rally in Ballina a few years ago, Willie gladly obliged and made most of the opportunity by interviewing the many top drivers at the start line.
Every Grand Prix weekend, reports on qualifying and race results would be relayed from the INN Sport feed, on Mid West Radio without fail. Over the years, Willie developed the Sunday Sports Show into the most listened to programme not alone locally but also on a national scale. Together we had the pleasure of bringing to listeners interviews with some of the big stars of sport notably Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve both World Champions with Williams F1. Whatever event I was at, be it an Autocross in Kilkelly or British Touring Cars at Donington Park, Willie gave it an airing.
He had a great affection for Jordan Grand Prix and he longed for the day that an Irish driver would make it to the top grade. With this in mind, Willie took a keen interest in Mayo's up and coming racer, Paul Sammin.
It is fair to say that without Willie's assistance, Paul would not be racing in Formula Ireland, nor would the 21 year old Louisburgh man be the surprise package of Ireland's premier Single-Seater Series. Willie's persuasive powers knew no abounds and Paul's backers remain committed to his efforts in continuing his progress in this prestigious championship and ultimately help him move up the motor racing ladder to further success.
So in that respect we have a lot to be thankful for. Many thanks Willie for your enthusiasm and generosity of time given to motorsport.
I know the 'phone-lines are hopping' up there in the great Sports Studio in the sky, with 'the shoe' behind the mike, controlling things from above.
Rest in Peace 'good buddy'.