Northern Ireland motorcycling star Michael Dunlop’s emphatic victory in the feature race at the 100th Manx Grand Prix on Bank Holiday Monday was his final salvo of a decimated road racing season.
Dunlop, the last bastion of the revered Ulster sporting dynasty made famous by his legendary uncle Joey and father Robert, put the seal on a memorable year with his latest Isle of Man success.
Four wins at the TT races in June elevated Dunlop to second on the all-time winners’ list with 25 victories – one behind Joey’s record of 26 – as history beckons for the Ballymoney racer in 2024.
It would be the crowning glory for a man who spent years honing his skills on narrow country lanes at Irish road racing meetings such as the Cookstown 100, Tandragee and Armoy.
Yet sadly, those very events where Dunlop, his late father Robert and brother William, and five-time world champion Joey served their racing apprenticeships with such distinction are in danger of being lost forever.
Amid soaring public liability insurance costs, Tandragee, the Mid Antrim 150 and Ulster Grand Prix did not take place this year, while all six road races in the Republic of Ireland were cancelled.
July’s Armoy meeting was only the third but final Irish road race held in 2023, while the international North West 200 – Ulster motorcycling’s jewel in the crown – narrowly went ahead following a substantial donation from a Co Tyrone businessman.
Part of the sporting fabric in Northern Ireland, Irish road racing’s very existence is now in the balance.
It would be unthinkable if the sport that gave us some of Ulster’s most celebrated sporting heroes is allowed to pass the point of no return.