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Andrew Lynch: What do you think of the runners and riders so far?

It's the opportunity that Micheal Martin, Brian Lenihan, Mary Hanafin and Eamon O Cuiv have been dreaming about all their lives.

Between now and Wednesday afternoon, the four Fianna Fail leadership candidates must try to convince their colleagues that they are the person best placed to save the party from oblivion in the General Election.

The responsibility is awesome -- and, as Brian Cowen has proved so convincingly, the consequences of getting it wrong can be catastrophic.

Whoever is elected FF leader on Wednesday will have two overriding tasks, each requiring very different skills.

The first is to limit the damage in a gruelling election campaign, where they will be primarily judged on the quality of their TV performances.

The second is to rebuild the organisation from the grassroots up, a five-year task that will demand endless slogs around Ireland on the rubber chicken circuit.

So which of the candidates looks straight out of central casting and which should be told politely, "Don't call us, we'll call you"?


Micheal Martin is the early frontrunner, for obvious reasons. As a well-groomed man with good media skills and an ultra-healthy lifestyle, the Cork choirboy is in many ways the exact opposite of Brian Cowen.

He can also point out that when the Taoiseach put down a motion of confidence last week, he was the only alternative leader with the courage to stand up.

Martin's biggest weakness is a perception that behind his clean-cut appearance, he is actually a bit of a weakling.

Some FF TDs also feel that the party really needs a leader based in Dublin, since the capital is where their support has collapsed to frighteningly low levels.


Brian Lenihan is playing catch-up. If this contest had happened six months ago, the Minister for Finance would likely have walked it.

His steely image, powerful debating performances and courage in battling cancer had apparently turned him into the people's choice.

Ever since the IMF came to town, however, his reputation has taken a hammering.

His repeated claims that the economy has "turned the corner" are starting to sound hollow, while last week backbenchers accused him of encouraging dissent before he wimped out and voted for Brian Cowen.

He can still win, but will have to do it the hard way.


Mary Hanafin's unique selling point is obvious. As a woman, she could give this traditionally male-dominated party the fresh image it desperately needs.

She is intelligent, dignified and has the ability to reach out to non-FF voters.

Hanafin's chief problem is that a lot of her colleagues just don't like her style, as shown by Mary O'Rourke's bitchy tweet that she sounds "like a prim aunt".

She also did herself huge damage in last week's leadership debate when she refused to say openly whether she would back Cowen. She insists she's "in it to win it", but the deputy leadership looks a more realistic ambition.

O Cuiv

Eamon O Cuiv is the surprise package. De Valera's lookalike grandson wants to return FF to its socialist roots, away from the sleaze associated with the Galway Tent era.

This back-to-basics approach appeals to some TDs and it is certainly hard to imagine Dev Og teeing off with Seanie FitzPatrick at Druids Glen.

O Cuiv is the rank outsider in this contest and it is easy to see why. He is the oldest at 60, he looks awkward on television and he would find it hard to connect with urban voters. Barring a miracle he will never land the top job -- but he could do a lot better on Wednesday than many people expect.