Lazarus Michael D gets ready for second coming
Michael D didn't cartwheel out of Montrose after the 'Frontline' debate on Monday night -- but if his knee had been up to scratch, he may well have been sorely tempted to have a crack at it.
How his heart must've beaten faster as he stood in the studio and watched Martin McGuinness ambush Sean Gallagher with the grim air of a chap who had decided that if his campaign was going down, then he was bloody well taking the frontrunner with him.
Until just after 10pm on Monday night, the opinion polls showed Michael D to be trailing Sean by what appeared to be an insurmountable margin. It looked as if all that early groundwork, all the thousands of miles covered on the trail while the others hadn't even yet mulled over throwing their hats in the presidential ring, was about to come to naught.
For Sean Gallagher, Independent candidate, star of 'Dragons' Den', purveyor of a populist message of Can-Do, was poised to snatch the prize from his grasp, as Michael D's careful, uncontroversial, choreographed campaign began to fade and the odds on him winning the race began to lengthen ominously.
And so yesterday, as a shell-shocked Sean struggled to deal with a barrage of claims and charges relating to dinners and envelopes and Fianna Fail, the stone rolled back and out strolled the Lazarus of Labour, back from the political dead.
But did Michael D display even a smidgen of smugness or trace of triumphalism at his late-minute reprieve courtesy of Sinn Fein?
Of course he didn't.
He may look like an innocent abroad, with those wide baby-blue eyes blinking earnestly from behind spectacles and a wise face framed by a halo of fluffy white hair. But Michael D Higgins is a wily fox, a veteran street-fighter who copped on early in this campaign that he needed to suppress his inner dotty professor and be presidential, if he was to stand a chance. So he stuck gamely to this plan -- no rambling, verbose speeches, no impenetrable replies to simple and direct questions. No mud-slinging, either.
However, he's not above launching the odd stealth attack while using the full-frontal assault of Martin McGuinness for cover, as he did yesterday at his final press conference in Dublin's Alexander Hotel.
He had the sparkle of a man whose hopes have been rekindled, and he wanted to stamp out the bright flame of the Gallagher campaign for good.
And so, in considered tones, he addressed the maelstrom of controversy which has boiled up around his rival. Sean Gallagher, he reckoned, "still had a considerable way to go" to answer the questions raised about his links to Fianna Fail, and that it was "appropriate that these questions were answered fully".
He pointed out that Ireland's reputation had taken a severe hiding in recent years, and thus "everything was going to depend on the reputation of the president", adding that the president "must satisfy every concern about trust and every concern about transparency".
The implication was subtle but crystal-clear -- if Sean Gallagher gets into the Aras, will the trail of controversy follow him into the Park?
Will the ninth president be dogged by squabbling over brown envelopes?
Although he's still on his best behaviour, Michael D's glee just kept on showing. When asked by an impertinent reporter if he would consider going for a second term, he paused. "I would never predict the love of the people," he deadpanned.
Oh what a lovely war it's been for Michael D. But he'd better beware the Ides of Dubya Bush. The extent of Sean's injuries is still unknown and he may yet still be the one to declare Mission Accomplished.