But in the face of a likely FF meltdown the party will be extremely lucky to hang onto even one seat. In the last election, Michael Ahern topped the poll with 10,350 first preference votes, closely followed in second place by O’Keeffe who got 10,081.
Together they captured a staggering 37.98% of the first preferences. But things have changed dramatically. O’Keeffe has bowed out of politics and handed the reins to his second eldest son Cllr Kevin O’Keeffe.
It would be a considerable achievement if Kevin can repeat his father’s vote-catching feats. The county councillor will suffer from not being as well-known as his often controversial father and from the public backlash in the wake of his party’s handling of the banking crisis and the IMF/ECB bailout.
Ahern will also suffer from the latter and is going to come under intense pressure from the O’Keeffe foot soldiers which will be scrambling to get votes from wherever they can to prop up the newcomer and give him some chance of getting the last of the four seats.
The usual concerns will be aired on the doorsteps, especially from young families who are racked with burdensome mortgages, unemployment and also from parents who see no future for their children other than emigration.
Youghal is one town which has lost all its industries, while Cobh has precious little left. Mitchelstown and Mallow have also haemorrhaged jobs, especially with the restructuring ofDairygold.
Unemployment has also mushroomed in Fermoy and Midleton. Meanwhile, in Mallow there is further concern over the future of its hospital and a lingering bad taste that the Government allowed the closure of the Greencore sugar factory.
This is a four-seater constituency and it is relatively easy to predict where the first three seats will go.
Labour’s Sean Sherlock is likely to top the poll and possibly with some to spare. He won the fourth seat last time out, but since taking over from his late father, Joe, his has built an enviable powerbase in the northern end of the constituency.
The next two seats are likely to fall to Fine Gael.
The party’s showing in the polls suggests it will have no problem making a gain in this constituency which has an electorate close on 85,000.
Indeed, FG could have made a gain in 2007 but for an extraordinary event. Mourneabbey-based senator Paul Bradford got 8,916 first preferences, but was eliminated on the 6th count after failing to get any transfers.
David Stanton, with a Midleton base, has the whole of the southern end of the constituency to himself for the party. First elected in 1997 he should be guaranteed to take the first of its two seats.
Who will get the remaining seat is nowhere near as certain. Originally the party decided to run just two candidates, with county councillor Tom Barry put in as Stanton’s running mate.
However, party headquarters then decided to add schoolteacher Patrick ‘Pa’ O’Driscoll to the ticket. Barry, a businessman who has impressed a lot of FG faithful by his straight-talking, is based in Killavullen, which is relatively near O’Driscoll’s home patch of Rathcormac.
The latter is also seen as one of FG’s new young guns and has significant support. Both of them will be looking for votes out of the same areas like Mallow, Fermoy, Charleville and Mitchelstown. O’Driscoll should certainly have his home village sown up, especially as Ned O’Keeffe did his son, Kevin, no favours there following the last European elections.
A disgruntled Ned vented his spleen against the people of Rathcormac who he felt didn’t support him in sufficient numbers in his bid to get to Brussels. Amazingly, he attacked locals very publicly when they went looking for his support for a new school. Ned said he wouldn’t back their efforts as they didn’t back him.
If Sean Sherlock does as well as expected, any surplus will keep his running mate, John Mulvihill, very much in the hunt for a seat.
Mulvihill, from Cobh, is a seasoned campaigner. The former navy man and Irish Steel worker has been a county councillor since 1991 and a TD from 1992-1997.
However, he will come under pressure from the Sinn Féin candidate who also has a real chance of taking the last seat.
Sandra McLellan was a relative newcomer when she contested the 2007 general election and polled 3,672 first preference votes, less than 300 behind Mulvihill.
Since then SF has built up a significant powerbase. It now has two town councillors each in Mallow and Youghal and a town councillor in Fermoy, Cobh and Midleton. McLellan is being seen very much as a dark horse.
Firstly, she will certainly improve her first preference count on 2007 and is likely to take some votes from disaffected FF members. Secondly, by running two candidates, FF risks splitting its core vote which will significantly dwindle. That could see both of their candidates losing out. The third-placed Fine Gael candidate could also be in the running.
The also rans will be Claire Cullinane of the People’s Convention, Malachy Harty of the Greens and the Independent Paul O’Neill.