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Bulldog Martin itching to eat Enda's homework

What: The Leaders' Debate. Which one? The opening salvo last Tuesday night on TV3.

Ah yes, that was a three-way, wasn't it? Nope. There was an unmerciful fuss over Enda 'The Dog Ate My Homework' Kenny's litany of excuses for not taking part in the debate with Micheál and Eamon.

First he didn't want to be dictated to by the mere newbie leader of Fianna Fáil, then he announced he had taken the hump with tasteless comments made about him by Vincent Browne, and then it turned out he was doing his own gig in Leitrim that night anyway.

So how did it go for the two lads then? Presumably arch-orator and well-practised Angry Man Eamon Gilmore annihilated the rookie leader, Micheál Martin? Au contraire, Eamon was actually quite tentative and let Micheál away scot-free on some of the stickier issues such as why Anglo was included in the September 2008 bank guarantee and how the hell the IMF ended up with the keys to the nation's coffers.

Surely Micheál's a bit too polite for a bare-knuckle contest? Not a bit of it. The Corkman mightn't look like a street-fighter, but he's the classic example of the iron fist inside a velvet glove.

Micheál is a skilled practitioner of the political bunfight -- he certainly emerged intact from several bruising set-tos over the two Lisbon Treaty referendums, so he's no rookie.

And at TV3 he harried and harassed the Labour leader and didn't let him get into his stride.

Was it a total rout? No -- Eamon landed a few punches, particularly close to the end, such as reminding Micheál of the massive 140 reports he had commissioned while he was Minister for Health. But his fightback came too late.

And what about the third chap in the studio? How did he do?

Enda wasn't there -- he was in Carrick-on-Shannon doing a town-hall chat with the locals.

No -- how did Vincent do? It was a revelation. He was as good as gold -- no snarling, snapping or sticking his oar in. Incredibly, the irascible broadcaster actually managed to put the 'moderate' into 'moderator'.

So was Enda missed? Not really, he was barely mentioned, and it turned into an absorbing and substantive debate between the two men.

And in the meantime poor Enda was in Leitrim getting barracked by what appeared to be an irate citizen but in fact later turned out to be some character from a spoof campaign.

Did anybody bother their barney watching the debate or was everyone glued to the Ireland v Wales match? Astonishingly, an average of 411,000 people tuned in. Mind you, it was a particularly boring match.

So what's the story now? Are there more debates planned, and will Enda show up at the next ones?

It looks like it; the five leaders (including John Gormley and Gerry Adams) will take part in a shouting match on RTE's Frontline next Monday, though Valentine's Night is a peculiar choice for a date, as there's little love lost between the five men.

But what about the three-ways? Is Enda going to mix it with the two big lads? Indeed, first up is the TG4 debate as Gaeilge on Wednesday, February 16, and then the grand finale on RTE on Tuesday, February 22, three days before polling day.

What a lot of talking. Will that be an end to it? Not necessarily.

Micheál seems to have developed a bit of a taste for these verbals.

He was barely out of the TV3 studio on Tuesday night when he was calling on Enda to debate him on a one-to-one basis, and minutes later Eamon was out doing the very same thing.

And then in Mayo on Wednesday, Micheál also said that he wanted to take on Baron Adams in a head-to-head.

Phew. Maybe someone should sing a song to them, you know the one by Ronan Keating? Ah yes, perhaps you mean 'You Say It Best When You Say Nothing At All'.

Indo Review