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Interview: Mark Mooney talks MXoN – Team Ireland, challenges, expectations and more

Interview: Mark Mooney talks MXoN – Team Ireland, challenges, expectations and more
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With Ireland racing the 2023 MXoN event at Ernee this weekend, we caught up with team manager, Mark Mooney on his role, expectations for team Ireland at this years event and much more.

You can listen or read below:

GateDrop: Mark, let’s rewind to last year… it was your first year as team manager. How did you find the experience at RedBud? It was nice to see the riders under a nice awning and all close together – there looked to be a good vibe!

Mooney: You know we had a great experience the lot of us, they were all very happy with how it went but obviously we didn’t get the result we wanted. It was a great experience for me, met a lot of new friends and learnt a lot. I was able to learn how the whole setup works and everything like that.

The magnitude of the event is overwhelming when you get there but we got into the rhythm after the first couple of days that we were there. Now we didn’t get the result but it was one of those things you just have to go through the motions of the bad side before getting the good side. I hope this year we will see more of an improvement. It was mechanical on the day but it was good, I really enjoyed it.

GateDrop: Obviously everyone has a perception from outside about the management role but you never truly know what it involves until you are in the role. How did you find the first year – anything take you by surprise? I am sure this year was easier knowing exactly what to expect…

Mooney: I actually think we handled it pretty well. I run a business myself managing staff so sort of managing fifteen people to me wasn’t too overwhelming. It was more logistically and timing everything correctly but the good thing about this event is that they give you a timetable which is nice to work from. It means you sort of know where you’ll be at every minute of the day whether it’s race day, qualifying day or even the day before that when you go to the welcome center when you get your tickets. It’s all organized by MXGP and they send everything quite detailed so if you stick to that, you’ve got a good chance of not failing. It was okay, I never had any problems on that side.

Image: Ian Cairns

GateDrop: Just on last year, we didn’t qualify but a bit of bad luck on the first lap on the B final but overall the lads did their best and Meara rode great… even beating Shimoda!

Mooney:  To me, John had a very good opportunity there last year. He got the Hitachi bike from Roger (Magee) and he give it his all. I thought he performed really well and was thrown in the deep end not doing it before. I do believe he could have went a couple of times over the years and he only got going last year before Jason was sick and he slipped in.

In fairness to John he was fully committed and speaking on the phone he convinced me he’d do the job and he did deliver on the day. To step on the factory 250cc after racing the Kawasaki 450cc most of the year, it was super impressive in my opinion. It is a shame he has given up the racing but I am sure if he wants to race he’d still be in the mix but maybe we’ll see him racing again but I want to wish him all the best.

GateDrop: Just on the selection process this year, was it difficult? – I am sure it came down to four riders – Barr, Meara, McCormick and Edmonds… Edmonds always steps up at big events but at the same time didn’t have the best of seasons – did that get factored into the thinking?

Mooney: Me and Stuart have known each other for a long time. We are sponsoring him for nearly the last ten years. But Stuart knows himself that he didn’t have the best season. You know, he went out at Matterley Basin last weekend he showed everyone that he could do it but I believe deep down he knows he could have had a better season all round. I know by talking to him that he is building up for next year already, I know he’s had a lot of bike, suspension issues this year and recently his bikes were stolen. That was sort of the straw that broke the camels back for his head this year but for next year he is already building and I think we’ll see a different Stuart Edmonds next year.

He’s in a good place mentally, physically and a lot more relaxed. He went to Matterley more relaxed and you could see that in his riding, he just showed up but he did show up so it made me think about my decision on the team. It’s not questionable but it shows how tough a task it is when you see someone like that you have to leave out, it shows how well the other three have done this year. In fairness to them they were the best three candidates, I can’t think of anyone else, really.

GateDrop: I am happy for McCormick as he’s been knocking on the door for a number of years now and when he’ll have the memory of representing his country, I think he deserves it but I think it’s important he just goes out there, enjoys it without any pressure… 

Mooney: I think you touched on it there, I know what Glenn can do, I have seen him race many many times. He came down to the meeting in Dublin in 2018 and he actually won the event that day and all the top guys were there that day. But when he came down that day, there was no pressure on him, he went out rolled and won. If I look back, I know not to put any pressure on Glenn, I just want him to go out there and do his best. But a team talk of saying Glenn, you have to do X, you have to do Y, I actually don’t think that is going to work. I think for Glenn anyways, just go to the line, relax and ride his heart out.

If he does that I think you’ll see what he can do. I know last weekend at Matterley you might say he was off the pace but as the day progressed he wasn’t really that far away. You are talking milliseconds around a couple of turns from what I could see but he was certainly learning on the job. Before that last race I just told him to go out, relax and try and stick to the lads and in fairness to him for 5-6-7 laps he was hanging in there. I just think it is a great opportunity for him and he could be a dark horse. He is back on the 250cc after racing the 350cc at the GP so he’ll be back on his comfort zone. The bike looks good fun around that track with a lot of big hills and stuff. I just think he’ll perform but I don’t want to put him under any pressure, if he is relaxed he’ll enjoy it and that is when he’ll have his speed, no doubt about it. I am delighted to have him on the team, he is a great character, having him with us the last day or two, he is a good person to have around so I wish him the best of luck.

GateDrop: You give the lads an opportunity to race Matterley Basin MXGP which was the final round, you were there – how did you find the event? I thought it was a great idea to allow all four riders to contest it, the sort of prep they need!

Mooney: I’ve been to lots of GP’s and lots of MXoN events over the years mainly as a spectator but I was more involved at Matterley. It was nice to be mixing with the lads that you see on the TV screens every other weekend. It was good and I think going forward, if you want to do this event properly that the top three, four or five guys from Ireland, they should be doing at least three or four GP’s a year. That is something that I am happy to get on-board with and help if I can.

Okay, we did the UK round but there’s no reason why they can’t do France, Belgium, Holland and maybe Latvia, the ones not that far away that they can get too. The ones that are possible to get too, I think that is what we should be exploring, the cost of getting there isn’t as bad as people might think. You can enter as a wildcard and get a discounted fee on the entry fee so there’s ways of getting there. If sponsors and the federations could get together and help put them out there, I think it would make such a difference. My experience from it is that we should be doing it more because the difference that I saw from Saturday’s qualifying to the end, I think they all improved and took the positives out of it.

I think if they went to MXGP in Europe outside of the MXoN, you would see them stepping up and running that pace again. Unless you are thrown into that deep end and that pace, you will never be able to run the pace. I think it was a great idea and productive. From speaking to the riders they are happy as well because now they know in France they aren’t being thrown into the deep end and know what to expect. The pressure that would have been on them if we didn’t have done it, would be greater.

Image: Nigel McKinstry

GateDrop: Cole McCullough, it is amazing to see him racing the EMX125 series – what’s your thoughts on him as a rider? It shouldn’t be long before he lines up for Ireland at the MXoN…

Mooney:  I spoke to Cole just briefly at Matterley, he was up in the same area we were watching the race. He is very relaxed, you can tell this type of racing, the paddock, it doesn’t phase him one single bit. It is just like going to a local race, that is what it felt like talking to him as well. That is very good and very positive, I don’t think you could put him on any track in Europe and he’d be phased.

The second point is that he has Philip there behind him pushing and he is probably the driving force in getting him this far. I think if he keeps going the right direction, comes of age a little bit, he is still very young then there’s no reason why he won’t be in the team and a very big player in the team going forward in fact. There’s no reason he won’t be there and I’d love to see him there someday. He just needs to keep doing what he is doing, if you go back a few years you could argue the team had an easier pick. 10-12 years ago we had Crockard, Barr in his peak and Irwin – these guys picked themselves.

Now we are coming into a situation where you have got Stuart, Martin who are coming to the end of road. Now they might argue they aren’t but I know this sport and the way it progresses, you will only get another year or two – once you hit 35 it might never happen again. But it is nice to see younger guys coming through, Cole is probably the fastest one we have at the moment but there’s another couple of guys probably not far away either.

I believe if we saw them race together at the same event maybe EMX125 or a British Championship, there’s other names. We have Lennox Dickinson, Finn Wilson and young Jake Farrelly, they’re all quick but again it all depends how long they stick at it. With Cole I would say he probably will looking at the body of people he has around him, the support network and his Dad being able to put things in place for him, in the right direction. My fingers are crossed that we will see a really good rider coming out of this guy and if we do we’ll have a member for the MXoN for a long long time but again he has to get there.

GateDrop: What are the goals for team Ireland this weekend?

Mooney: Yeah, some the smaller countries have elite riders and that one particular rider can get them over the line. But the other side of that, it might not happen like that. Go back to last year with Shimoda and Japan they didn’t go through even though on paper you’d have put them through. It’s open and they can do it, if all three can ride well, get in the mix with good starts, hang in there and put the pressure on, anything can happen.

But I need to say we need a bit of luck as well, a tiny bit of luck just to get this happening but I believe you make your own luck. Sometimes the harder you try you don’t get the luck so hopefully they give their 100% and we get the bit of luck. The goal is to get into the A final on Saturday and we’ll take it through the B final if we have too. I know that is exciting for everyone watching but for someone like me, I’d much prefer to get straight through to start looking at the lap times and then not have to get up on Sunday morning, not in a panic but certainly more pressure. Some of the lads, some of them might perform better under pressure but I think it would be way better, from a management side to get through on Saturday. I wish them the best of luck.

GateDrop: This will be your second year as team manager, do you still see yourself in this role for the long term?

Mooney: It’s not up to me, Andy.

GateDrop: But if it was up to you, personally would you like it to be a long term thing? 

Mooney: Look, I enjoy what I am doing. I have four young kids at home that are very young and for me to do this, work has to be sacrificed for three or four weeks of the year because of the time I lose putting the effort into the job of getting us here. It is quite intense, people don’t see that but as I said from the start, with the MXGP setup, they give you a schedule and you have to stick with it. It might sound easy on paper but with 10-15 people involved it is actually not that easy.

Stress levels, I handle stress pretty well but I don’t know if this job is for everybody. I actually think I am well equipped to doing it, it’s one of those jobs you probably don’t get a lot of love for doing it but if you love the sport of Motocross, which I do, then you’ll do it. If the question is if I am going to continue doing it, the answer is yes, I will until they tell me it’s not my job.

But if you give this role to someone you need someone with good backing behind you and I’m not talking about my own company personally or anything like that. You need to have contacts with people that are prepared to back the team, pay money out of their own pocket and actually pay for this event. Sometimes you have to drag it out of them, we have a list of 30-40 sponsors there from last year, half of them only give us the money this year so think about that for a second. 40 sponsors but with the economy we are down for this year, half of them backed up this year as well which is brilliant but the other half didn’t, but they might next year again.

If you are coming to do this job, you can’t come unprepared with the backing and weight behind you. You have to have good credentials, contacts, reach and ability to abstract money out of people. Otherwise this won’t happen but I feel I do have that and it’s a good base. If anyone was to get this job after me I will be explaining that even before the logistics, you have to have a really good plan in place to get the money, if you don’t have that, it doesn’t happen.

In fairness to the two associations, the MRA and MCUI, they do contribute to it the best they can, but when it comes to the cost of it, it is only a small proportion of what we actually spend. It is not an easy task for anybody but I will do it for as long as I am able as long as they want me to do it. Someone putting their hand up to do it, needs to be prepared because it is not easy.

Interview: Andy McKinstry

Image: Ian Cairns

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