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Hard to compete with new leader on his own turf

The reinvigorated Fianna Fail leadership risks overshadowing the mammoth efforts of backbencher Michael McGrath to get elected alongside his constituency colleague Micheal Martin.

Until the dramatic leadership plot of recent weeks, there were daring predictions the backbench TD could overtake his ministerial colleague in the popularity ratings and secure a single seat for Fianna Fail in Cork South-Central.

But proving again that a week is a long time in politics, Mr Martin is now expected to command a massive first preference vote, as loyal Fianna Fail voters flock to a politician reborn.

Having languished in the opinion polls at 14pc and crawled marginally to 16pc, Fianna Fail will now have to raise that support by another 10pc in Cork South-Central if the leader's running mate is to survive the political axe.

On his first election outing in 2007, Mr McGrath (34) came within just 1,360 votes of Mr Martin to secure the second seat with 9,800 votes.

An accountant by profession, his performances at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have launched him on to numerous "one to watch" lists.

And while he has a strong base of support in his homeland of Carrigaline, he concedes the further he goes from home, the more mixed the reaction.

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Yet he insists that about 20pc to 30pc of the electorate can yet be swayed and denies that he was ever ahead of Mr Martin in the popularity stakes.

"I never accepted the argument that I was ahead of Micheal Martin in the constituency. That was never the case, quite frankly," says Mr McGrath.

"Clearly, Micheal Martin becoming leader of the party does change the dynamic. You would expect there to be an improvement in support, in particular in Cork, where you would think the bounce would be most acute."

Hiking Fianna Fail support levels from the lows of 16pc to as high as 30pc in order to secure the two seats is a "big ask, even with the leader in the constituency".

"Our chances are improved with Micheal as leader but it is going to be a fight to the death," says Mr McGrath, who believes he will be battling it out for the fifth and last seat.

Both men will need to repeat their transfer rate of 60pc in the 2007 General Election -- giving Mr McGrath crucial transfers if Mr Martin gets elected with a significant surplus vote.

Constituency experts say Mr Martin, Labour's Ciaran Lynch and Fine Gael's Simon Coveney will take the first three seats.

A second Fine Gael candidate -- namely Senator Jerry Buttimer or sitting TD Deirdre Clune -- is predicted to take the fourth seat.

That leaves the last seat open to Mr McGrath, Fine Gael's third candidate Jerry Buttimer, Labour's Paula Desmond and Sinn Fein's Chris O'Leary.

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