THE Allianz Hurling League is back and Limerick are trailing Tipperary by nine points when I meet James Collins and his canvassing team on Saturday night
“The hurling match is on so we couldn’t have picked a worse time to be disturbing people,” comments the Fianna Fail hopeful who is a candidate in the Limerick City constituency.
The meeting point – as confirmed by text a number of days earlier – is Collins’ bar in Dooradoyle and the plan is to call to the hundreds of homes which are squeezed into the patch of land between the pub and the M20 motorway.
Before we set off, the current cathaoireach of municipal district of Limerick opens the back of his branded SUV and distributes hi-viz jackets to his small army of volunteers and supporters who will be guided by experienced campaigner Joe Collopy and James’ director of elections Derek Daly.
“Derek is an ex student union president at UL so he would have been very involved in Ogra Fianna Fail down through the years and an experienced director of elections. He’s a really really good guy. So you can see that everything is professionally run – all the houses are done, the notes are taken and followed up and the areas are ticked off as to who is in and who is out,” says James.
The former mayor then steers this reporter in the direction of Mark Doupe who tells me his daughter gave birth to his first grandchild a few hours earlier.
“She had a baby boy at five past twelve – Callum – weighing seven pounds.”
So why is Mark out canvassing and not at University Maternity Hospital Limerick?
“First of all visiting hours are not open until after half six so we said we would do an hour of this and we will head out for 7.30. I’ve been out with James a few nights and people have been generally receptive – particularly around this area,” he says.
As the obligatory group photo is being taken, James moves to dispel reports that there are tensions between himself and running mate Willie O’Dea.
To prove the point he introduces Dooradoyle resident Brian McDermott who proudly states that he will be giving his number 1 to Deputy O’Dea on February 8.
”I’m canvassing with Willie every day and there has a been a good response everywhere we have gone so I’m giving Willie my number 1 and James my number 2,” he said adding that he hadn’t heard about the alleged disharmony until informed by Cllr Collins.
“I haven’t heard anything like that, we haven’t come across it at all and I was totally surprised to hear it from James. The thing is I’m canvassing for Willie for number 1 and if people want a bit of direction we say James number 2,” he insists.
Once the canvass gets underway, a military-style operation kicks into gear as the canvassers quickly spread out and begin knocking on doors. “Go in pairs, two to the left, two to the right,” bellows Joe Collopy as we enter Cúl Crannagh.
One of the first people we encounter is Andrew Smalle who insists he’s not being disturbed even though he is preparing to entertain guests. “It’s all good” he tells James.
“For me the issues are local ones – the upkeep of this area – the footpaths, the roads and traffic management. I judge people what they can do on a local level and if James can deliver on a local level he can certainly deliver at a national level,” he tells the Leader.
James’ style of canvassing is not to knock on every door himself as he leaves that to his campaign team who beckon him when required.
As I find out later, James will clock up almost 30,000 steps by the end of the night and he reveals that technology helps ensure each canvass is as efficient as possible.
“We are all on WhatsApp and we use the live location. We would have two or three team leaders and we use the live location feature to meet and come together.”
After greeting James at his front door, John Randall informs him there are five registered voters in the house which means “five number ones for James Collins guaranteed”.
John, who works at Mary Immaculate College, tells the Leader it would be marvelous to have a local TD in the 33rd Dail.
“I can see his pub from my bedroom. I have never known a TD to be perfectly honest. I met Michael Noonan a few times and, actually, I met James Collins when he was mayor because he spoke at a few events (at MIC) and I thought he was excellent and I was pleasantly surprised,” said John who will undergo a hip replacement in the days before the election.
The crisis at UHL, the cost of housing and the lack of community facilities are all raised during the canvass..
As the canvass teams return to Collins’ Bar, news filters through that the Limerick hurlers have staged a stunning comeback and have beaten Tipperary at Semple Stadium.
A stunning result, which James Collins says he hopes to replicate on February 8.