AN ADVANCE group of Willie O’Dea canvassers move into a cul-de-sac off Limerick’s St Joseph’s Street.
As two approach a door, the candidate beckons to them. “Lads don’t knock there. The family had a recent bereavement,” he advises.
It shows respect, but also O’Dea’s uncanny knowledge of his political territory and his constituents.
O’Dea could be described as a serial canvasser. Out walking the street is a routine he adheres to not just at election time, but every weekend.
“When I go out walking I am holding a clinic. When you are out there you meet people, talk to them and learn of the problems and issues that are causing concern. So when I meet people on an election canvass, it makes it all the better as they know you’re not somebody they meet once every few years asking for the vote. When I am out walking I can engage with people and they appreciate that.”
His home at Naughton’s Place, off Henry St, is right in the heart of St Joseph’s Parish.
He finds this election a big change from the last time in 2011 when Fianna Fáil suffered a pounding.
Willie says: “People are more receptive this time round and lot of Fianna Fáil voters who left are coming back.”
Councillor Kieran O’Hanlon, who is standing beside him, interjects: “They found out that far off hills are not greener,”
O’Dea adds: “The reception this time is warm”
Another on the canvassing team is Francis Bresnahan, aged 56, who was on the Young Munster team which won the All-Ireland league final in 1993 when the Cookies beat St Mary’s.
Francis had a clash with now-commentator Brent Pope of St Mary’s, which resutled in the Limerickman being rendered unconscious and Pope getting a red card.
Francis said: “I learned we won when I woke up in St Vincent’s Hospital.”
Not to miss out on the celebrations, he signed himself out of hospital and caught a late train back to Limerick. He has resisted a number of invitations to enter local politics.
“I’m too busy coaching at Claughaun GAA club, the senior football team and youths rugby,” he said.
Francis who played senior rugby for Young Munster over 17 seasons, winning three Munster Senior Cup medals said: “I have known willie for years and I’m just giving him a hand with the canvass.”
As the canvass team moves along St Joseph’s Street a woman who lives in Ballincurra approaches.
She is concerned about the new bus lane at Ballinacurra and asks the candidate if there is anything that can be done about it.
Willie O’Dea agrees that it should not have been put there.
“It’s as if the council had too much roads money to spend and just spent it on a bus lane to get rid of an allocation,” he says.
Another man inquires about a story in the Limerick Leader.
He says: “In the Leader it said you want people who give you the number one and the number two to Jan O’Sullivan [Labour].”
O’Dea replies: “I don’t know where they [Limerick Leader] got that from. I never told my voters what to do with their number twos. All I’m asking for is the number one and it’s up to people themselves to do what they want after that.”
It’s then on to Wolfe Tone St. At No 63, Mick Hogan has a big welcome for O’Dea.
Mick, aged 75, a retired lorry driver who worked with McMahon’s tells me: “Willie did me a big favour about 10 years ago. I wasn’t well and needed a treble by-pass. I went to several of them, but Willie was the only one to do something for me and got the operation speeded up. The heart trouble never came back, thanks be to God.”
Down the street the canvassers turn into Mount Pleasant Avenue.
O’Dea worker, Kathleen Horan, a retired caterer with AIB at the 106/108 O’Connell St branch, moves over to the candidate with a bit of sound advice.
“Don’t go to that door They’re Fine Gael and they’ll only ate you.”
One man in his 20s answers the door at one of the many rented houses in the area.
When he tells Willie O’Dea his vote is in another constituency, the exchange continues.
“Limerick County,” came the reply.
“You might give the vote to Niall Collins.”
“I know Niall and I vote for him.”
As Willie O’Dea turns from the door he smiles: “If you can’t get the vote yourself, try and get it for a collague.”
As he talks about the way the campaign is going generally in Limerick, Willie O’Dea says there seems to be a swing away from the established parties which he has not seen before.
“And the voters seem to have put Sinn Féin in that [establishment] category. Prendiville (AAA) could gain a certain amount from that,” he says.
As for his chances of topping the poll, he said: “I think as a senior government minister, Michael Noonan will top the poll.”