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Talking point: Cole McCullough – the future of the Irish MXoN squad

Talking point: Cole McCullough – the future of the Irish MXoN squad
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As we turn our attentions to the new year and the new motocross season there was some sad news at the end of 2023 as Martin Barr announced he has retired from Irish MXoN duties after representing his country for the 17th time at Ernee – the same track his MXoN adventure started in 2005. Who’d have thought back then that Barr would go onto represent his country an amazing seventeenth time – the second in all time history behind Tanel Leok, an amazing achievement.

Whilst it is disappointing that Barr won’t be in the selection running for the MXoN in 2024 that will take place in Matterley Basin, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Ireland have some good riders with Jason Meara now having good MXoN experience and Glenn McCormick experiencing the event for the first time in 2023 – he’ll now know what to expect in the future. We can’t forget Stuart Edmonds either and the experience he has at the event, he’ll be hoping to have a stronger 2024 season and being in contention for the team this year.

The one big talent emerging and coming through the ranks at the moment is Cole McCullough – his father, Philip, actually raced the MXoN event with Martin Barr! Whilst it’s a shame Cole won’t be able to team up with Barr for team Ireland he is currently one to keep an eye on.

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The past two years, McCullough has been racing the EMX125 series, the first Irish rider to really tackle the European scene and it’s great to see. Whilst he still has improvements to make in hard pack conditions, he is really fast in the sand, perhaps no surprise as he did grow up with the facilities of the Magilligan practice track.

Image: Nigel McKinstry

Last year he showed good speed but it was all a building and learning year for the 2024 season. He was actually to young to race for Ireland at Ernee last year not yet having turned 15 years old and despite his young age he has more experience within the GP paddock than most Irish riders.

For 2024, McCullough will once again focus on the EMX125 championship and has made the switch to Fantic machinery with the experienced Corrado Maddii building his bikes so expect the bike to be a rocket ship. There’s no reason that with a full winter preparation behind him he can’t be a consistent top ten rider and his hard pack riding can’t improve.

As well as the EMX125 series, don’t be surprised to see him line up at some EMX250 rounds that don’t collide as he did race Arnhem last year and scored EMX250 points on his 250cc two stroke – riding the bigger bike will help him prepare for his future.

We did catch up with the Irish MXoN team manager, Mark Mooney before the MXoN at Ernee and asked him about McCullough and it was a high review.

“I spoke to Cole just briefly at Matterley GP, 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”.

Image: Ian Cairns

“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”, Mooney told 

It is important we don’t put too much pressure on his young shoulders and let him develop at his own pace. Of course, the main objective will be to stay injury free the entire season and at least make himself available for selection at Matterley Basin.

The management team of course may decide that Matterley Basin could prove to be a year to early for McCullough to represent his country but one thing that is certain is that it’s when not if he’ll get the opportunity provided he can stay injury free. Once he gets selected for team Ireland he’ll be looking to follow in Barr’s footsteps and chase those 17 appearances representing his country at the biggest Motocross event there is.

Article: Andy McKinstry

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