Son of a boxer lands blows on Gilmore


Micheál was quick on his feet in early rounds but he can’t skip away from his years in office

GREAT PERFORMANCE. Pity about his past.

Micheál Martin, son of a boxer, outscored Eamon Gilmore last night. He danced clever, often flat-footing his experienced opponent with a calm and measured aggression.

The fact that the new Fianna Fáil leader entered this bout with one arm tied behind his back – tightly bound by 14 years in a now reviled administration – made his achievement all the more impressive.

But did he win? Does it matter?

Deputy Martin did very well in his first big test. His problem is that this election is being judged on a continuous assessment basis.

Even for such a nimble operator as Micheál, the weight of three successive governments is too much to carry.

He can’t skip away from it.

The much anticipated leaders’ debate between Gilmore and Martin proved an engrossing encounter: two hothoused flowers, one mellow Limerick ham and a missing cast member that nobody missed.

TV3, hosts of the first of a series of debates, threatened to put an empty chair in the spot where the Fine Gael leader would have been seated. They didn’t in the end. Which was a disappointment.

They could have replaced Enda Kenny with new piece of furniture: a wooden decliner. His signature piece.

Martin and Gilmore disappeared for the afternoon yesterday after fulfilling public engagements. Then they retired with their handlers for intense hothousing sessions in advance of the debates. Both teams did well by their respective charges.

There was nothing really new in what either man had to say. They kept their emotions in check. They marshalled their arguments well. They listened, they kept interruptions to a minimum and Browne did what he was told.

The rules in these set-piece events are set in stone. The presenter is not a celebrity ringmaster but an impartial moderator. Timekeeping is their biggest job.

It must have been torture for poor Vinnie to keep a rein on his tongue last evening. But he showed admirable discipline. Not one anguished sigh escaped him.

From the very start, Martin was up for the fight. So too was Gilmore, but he seemed winded by Martin’s aggression. Despite his obvious baggage, the new FF leader plunged in. The exchanges moved rapidly between the two, both men gasping for breath as they battled.

By the interval, Vincent called for a break. The early pace had been furious. We imagined cornermen moving into the studio with wet sponges, fanning their boys with towels.

Micheál took the first half.

Eamon pulled things back in the second. Micheál was more in command, more relaxed. Eamon, though, had some haymakers in reserve – in particular, Micheál’s past. He kept calling him “minister” even though he isn’t one anymore.

“You’ve been a minister for 4,955 days over the last 14 years – you’ve had plenty of time to enact those reforms,” he told Martin.

”You’re 30 years in the Dáil…I’m a newly-elected leader!” responded Micheál. Was he not entitled to a chance?

He’s good. Damn Good.

They’ll be battle hardened for the next bout, when Enda is finally produced.

Enda Kenny, of course, was raising the rafters in Carrick-on-Shannon.

We hear there were no chicken incursions at his rally.

Earlier, while Fine Gael tried to project an air of studied detachment on the issue of the debate, the lurking presence of Henda, their leader’s stalking nemesis, has rather unnerved senior party handlers.

As Deputy Kenny conducted a morning press conference on the steps of campaign headquarters, officials scanned the horizon for approaching chickens. This is because Enda’s decision to duck out of last night’s argument turned him into an instant poultry magnet. The more he clucked out his excuses in the run-up to the event the more he was called a chicken.

Yesterday morning’s incarnation of Henda wasn’t exactly in the feisty Foghorn Leghorn category. Dispatched by the Sun to liven up proceedings, their chicken was far too timid to cause any stir

Meanwhile, Enda got on with relaying the message that his party is committed to reducing numbers in the public service while protecting frontline staff.

He brought along a Village People tribute act to drive home his point. After he said his piece Enda posed for photographs with them. There was a construction worker wearing a hard hat, a garda officer, a nurse, a doctor and a teacher wearing a mortarboard. They weren’t really public servants. We asked Liz Bracken if she is a teacher.

“Eh, yes. A drama teacher. Actually, no. I’m really an actor.”