ON the first count figures in the Swinford electoral area, the outcome looked pretty clear-cut. Gerry Murray of Sinn Fein had once again delivered a powerful poll-topping performance, Fianna Fail would gain a seat, and Fine Gael, and most likely Joe Mellett, would lose out.
There appeared to be no way possible way Fine Gael could hold their two seats. Fianna Fail had put in a top class performance to comfortably overtake Fine Gael on first preference votes and percentages in the Swinford region. This would be the one ray of sunshine on a bad, bad day for the party across the county.
From the outset, Gerry Murray was coasting home. Taking around 470 in Charlestown and close on 300 in the Swinford boxes, a remarkable performance considering the intensity of the battle for votes in the latter region, the Sinn Fein man and his supporters could bask in the afterglow of their resounding success. For them, it was a matter of relaxing and watching the rest of the contest unfold.
Another man who didn’t need to break sweat after the first count was Jimmy Maloney of Fianna Fail. Believed by many to be under threat, Maloney steeled himself for the battle and with over 1,400 on the first count, he was well on course to retain his seat. With over 800 votes in Foxford and close on 140 in Bohola, Maloney was cruising home like a man enjoying a well earned vacation in Ibiza.
Eugene Lavin polled in excess of 600 votes, almost half his total, in the three Kiltimagh booths. Sizeable votes in Bohola, Kinaffe and Craggagh pushed him up the ranks.
Everyone knew that Joe Mellett would come under pressure from young Fianna Fail first timer Michael Smyth. With both of them based in Swinford, the contest was as even as you could get with just seven votes between them on the first count.
With John Caulfield from Kilkelly coming in with over 900 votes, representing the fruits of a well run campaign, Fianna Fail looked on course to gain a seat.
The elimination of Cathal Henry (FG) and Independent candidates Sylvia Spain and John Healy saw Eugene Lavin (271) and Joe Mellett (227) pick up a much better than expected transfer. John Caulfield took 135 but Michael Smyth only managed 65. This, in essence, saw the resurrection of Joe Mellett and sounded alarm bells for Michael Smyth.
Mellett, back on his feet again, was now 151 votes ahead of Smyth but with the elimination of John Caulfield (FF), it was still believed that there were more than sufficient votes to lift Smyth above Mellett with a decent transfer and clinch the seat.
But Fine Gael took close on an even break of the division with Lavin getting 265 and Mellett securing 127, compared to 245 for Maloney and 223 for Smyth. Sensationally, Mellett had stayed ahead and, with 1,563, was 55 clear of Smyth on 1,508.
For Fine Gael, joy was unconfined as they celebrated an unprecedented win. Truly a case of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. For Fianna Fail, and especially for Michael Smyth, who looked a near certainty to win this seat from once the boxes were opened, it was a real heart-breaker. But lessons are there to be learned from and, no doubt, young Smyth will see another day when fate will smile more kindly.
With the wisdom of hindsight, and with Gerry Murray already elected, the candidate that was picking up the best transfers across the board was Eugene Lavin whose days playing for the Mayo senior team made him a household name across the region. He too walked a bit of a tight-rope on this occasion.
Indeed, while awaiting the distribution of the votes of the three eliminated candidates, many were watching to see if Mellett could bridge the gap on Lavin and, perhaps, edge ahead to take what was believed to be the only Fine Gael seat available. But the results of the third and fourth counts provided intense drama. In Biblical terms, Lazarus is alive and well and is now living in Swinford.
There was nothing easy in the Swinford electoral area … and you can rest assured that such will be the case when the next one rolls around in 2014.