AT just after 8.30am yesterday, Eamon Gilmore was tucking into a plate of sausages in Labour HQ. At this late stage along the election trail, every political general knows better than to march on an empty belly -- and the Labour leader had miles to go before he slept that night.
He had lined up high-speed canvasses through Thurles, Clonmel, Waterford, Enniscorthy and Wicklow town, ending (naturally) in his own constituency of Dun Laoghaire before nightfall.
But before hitting the road, Eamon had to host his last formal press conference of the campaign. It made quite a contrast from the party's first bells-and-whistles affair in the salubrious surrounds of the Guinness Storehouse, when the sunny slogan of 'Gilmore for Taoiseach' didn't seem altogether preposterous.
But Labour seemed at sixes-and-sevens at the start of the campaign.
Eamon, who has a reputation as a skilled debater in the Dail, came off decidedly second-best in his debut televised head-to-head with Micheal Martin and the Gilmore Gale looked set to taper off into a Gilmore Gust while Fine Gael was going down a storm with the electorate.
He had begun his tour around the hustings by invoking the C-word (change) whenever he opened his mouth in front of a voter. And it looked like it was working -- but unfortunately the electorate was changing to Enda and his Five Point Plan.
So Eamon changed tack. He got his act together, put in a strong performance in the last leaders' debate and slowly tails have begun to creep a bit higher in the Labour camp.
And so Eamon was in chirpy form yesterday morning at the last press conference.
He insisted that Labour had answered its critics -- who had claimed that the party had no detailed plans -- enumerating the policy documents the party had launched.
"It's been a long time since anyone said that the Labour Party has no policies," he declared.
And he was bullish about his party's prospects in the election. The most recent opinion polls suggest that some of the large raft of floating voters may be drifting back in Labour's direction.
"I expect that the outcome on Friday will be different to what the pattern of polls has been and I believe that Labour will do better than the polls are predicting," he reckoned.
Out on the campaign trail, it's actually the Fine Gael surge that has put new wind into the Gilmore sails.
TIME after time as he met with party workers and passing voters yesterday, he warned of the perils of single-party government, which is now a distinct possibility as Fine Gael's projected seat count hovers tantalisingly close to the magic 80 number.
At his first stop in Thurles, one of the party's big hopes, Alan Kelly, had amassed an impressive welcoming party of supporters clad in red Alan Kelly jackets.
The candidate strolled over to say hello to the media.
"It should be another politician welcoming you to his town," he said, cheekily referring to the King of Tipperary North, Michael Lowry.
But Alan is making serious inroads into the traditional vote here and he hopes to win a seat for Labour.
And Eamon made a rousing pitch to the party workers.
"It's very clear that this election is down to two choices -- one is to give a monopoly of power to one political party for five years and the other is to vote for Labour and put fairness at the heart of government," he declared.
"There's only one way to stop the monopoly and that's to vote Labour," he warned them.
And again as he addressed his troops in South Tipperary -- including candidate Phil Prendergast, who has a tough battle on her hands -- Eamon raised the spectre of what might happen if Fine Gael was left to run the national shop unattended.
"One of the things we have to look at if they (Fine Gael) are in government on their own is neutrality -- this idea of a new European Security Force and dropping the triple-lock.
"The triple-lock is very important and a lot of people would be worried where that is going. We have to protect Irish neutrality," he declared.
"Fine Gael on their own, that's the way it's going. Labour in government, a balanced government and it's not going there," he added, uttering doomy pronouncements about it "being a very dangerous thing to give one party a total monopoly of power".
And he stayed on this message as he met people on the way around the towns. But not everyone has figured out the differences between Fine Gael and Labour yet.
In Clonmel, he approached two women. "Are you ready to vote on Friday?" he asked chattily. The women nodded enthusiastically.
"Yes," replied one. "I've read the Five Point Plan and all."