DING! Ding! Seconds out, round one. Bruiser Brian vs Enda the Denter, trading blows to be king of the Dáil ring.
Ideological fight fans were left disappointed though, as it proved more of a sparring session than grudge match with the pair content to circle each other warily, leaving few marks for their efforts.
Like Rocky’s trainer before him, it seemed Bertie Ahern was playing the part of the Clara Sparrer’s psyched-out mentor when he talked up his boy with dire warnings that challengers should be ready for their doom as his successor would be a bit more bash-happy in the Dáil bear pit than he was. “If there is a row on, he won’t be as polite as I am. If somebody wants a row with Brian, if I was them I’d stay up late the night before preparing for it,” Mr Ahern announced as he himself stepped from the ring for the final time, still licking his wounds from encounters with Judge “Dread” Mahon.
Back on the Dáil floor, Enda, the would-be Slayer from Mayo, was clearly going for a win on points, but unfortunately, his points were far from clearly laid out as he recited old statistics to no great effect.
Though his energetic footwork did little to trip up Rowin’ Cowen, it soon became obvious that one thing Bertie had passed on to his chosen champion was a severe case of the mumbles.
As reporters reached for the newly installed headphones in the press gallery in order to decipher what the Taoiseach was saying, memories drifted back to Brian’s time as health minister when he famously described the department as being as prone to landmines as Angola. Surely he could enunciate audibly then? Otherwise it would have been The Mumble in the Jungle.
As the bout between the Tullamore Mauler and (not so) Edgy Enda trailed away to them retreating to their respective corners out of breath, but unbowed, Eamon Gilmore popped up to deliver his usual trick of punching well above the weight of the leader of the third party. He caught the as yet undefeated Taoiseach off- guard with a nifty left handed jab about co- locating private hospitals on health service sites.
Slap-happy Brian was momentarily dizzied by the forthright demands for facts and figures on how much it would cost public hospitals and he noticeably started to duck the well-targeted blows.
The newcomer clearly lacked Bertie’s butterfly style of slipping all over the shop, so that opponents could never get a grip on the moving target that was the Drumcondra Bomber.
His often contradictory, at times nonsensical, Dáil replies would always be coated in a bystander “Jaysus, dat’s terrible dat is” kind of drive-by concern for the random health horror story being relayed to him, without ever accepting his govern- ment may have had anything to do with it.
It was a frustrating, but effective manoeuvre.
Now, inflamed into a Raging Biffo riled by Gilmore’s glove work, Rowin’ Cowen lashed out as he tried to weave grandly. He was a performer who painted his pugilist political art form on a wider canvass and would not be drawn on specifics. But as his earlier dry answers to Kenny’s concerns about the lack of help for children with speech therapy needs showed, Bruiser Brian still has to find a way to display the punter-pleasing passion needed to be a true king of the Dáil ring.
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