Not long after 9am on Saturday as the boxes were opened in Leisureland and the tallymen got to work, patterns began to emerge that would remain unaltered throughout the day. Galway was giving its backing to Labour, but it was not exactly punishing Fianna Fáil.
The early tallies indicated that in Galway City East, councillors Declan McDonnell, Terry O’Flaherty, Brian Walsh, and Michael J Crowe were safe, while Labour’s new young candidate Derek Nolan was storming into a seat. His party colleague Cllr Tom Costello was on shaky ground, but should make it while Fianna Fáil Cllr Mary Leahy looked like she was on the way out.
It was as predicted. Fianna Fáil to drop one, Labour to gain two.
By the afternoon, as the official count for the Galway City Council began in Westside, tallies were still being taken in Leisureland. Galway City Central was going as predicted. Billy Cameron and Pádraig Conneely were safe. Colette Connolly was holding on.
The main question here was, which Fianna Fáiler would take the seat? John Connolly was polling reasonably well, but it was obvious that the day would belong to Ollie Crowe, thanks to the work of ‘Oliver’s Army’, his clever, battle hardened, campaign team.
The real surprises lay in store in Galway City West, the ward many felt was most predictable. The tallies showed that councillors Donal Lyons and Catherine Connolly were on course to be elected. No surprise there. However so were Fine Gael’s Hildegarde Naughton and Labour’s Neil McNelis. Remarkably, Peter Keane, the ‘quiet man’ of the election, was challenging for a seat - and all of these three looked like pushing the veteran Cllr John Mulholland and the high profile Green Niall Ó Brolcháin out. Clearly this ward might offer the most drama.
The official count began in the Westside Community Centre at c2.30pm. A rather subdued atmosphere pervaded the count. There was some banter, slagging, and intense discussion, but noticeably less than at the counts in 2007 and 2002. It was all rather muted.
Galway City East was the first ward to be dealt with. The first count showed Independent Terry O’Flaherty topping the poll on 1,139.
“It’s very few women who top the poll,” she told the Galway Advertiser. “With only 13 per cent of women in politics in general I have always said you have to work three times harder as a woman. I’m particularly delighted to have topped the poll as my mother topped the poll in 1985 and now, 24 years later I’ve done the same.”
She was followed by Declan McDonnell on 1,095, Michael J Crowe on 1,045, Derek Nolan on 995, and Brian Walsh on 979. Tom Costello trailed by 777 and Mary Leahy by 758.
With the quota at 1,257, it would be the seventh count before Cllr O’Flaherty (on a combined vote of 1,311 ) and Mr Nolan (1,283 ) were elected. Mr Nolan had been confident of taking the last seat, but was visibly stunned that he had romped home to second place.
“I always knew I had a chance but I didn’t think it would come together as well as it did,” he said afterwards. “I’m overwhelmed and daunted. I have a lot of expectations to live up to and I will work hard to meet those expectations.”
By this stage, councillors McDonnell, Walsh, and Crowe were on course to retain their seats. McDonnell and Walsh were elected on the ninth county, Crowe on the 10th. Cllr Walsh drew plenty of transfers from his FG running mate Barra Nevin, Cllr McDonnell drew a steady stream of votes from all sides. Interestingly, Cllr Crowe’s best transfers came from Barra Nevin and Brian Walsh.
Cllr Tom Costello was also pulling in steady transfers from all sides and with 139 from Mr Nolan he did enough to get elected on 1,203, albeit without reaching the quota. Ms Leahy finished with only 930 votes, well behind her rivals. It had been obvious from the start that she would not make it.
In Galway City Central, Labour councillor Billy Cameron romped home to top the poll and be elected on the first count with 1,065, exceeding the quota of 1,034. “The Cameron name is good in the city,” he toild me. “I think the reason I was elected is because of five years of hard work.”
Mayor Pádraig Conneely received a first preference vote of 1,012 and was elected on the fourth count with 1,059. Of the other main contenders, Ollie Crowe was out in front with 777 first preferences. Although Labour’s Colette Connolly was some way behind with 541, she scooped up big transfers from the Greens and Independent Mike Cubbard to take the third seat on the fifth count.
The battle between the Fianna Fáilers for the last seat was never in doubt. John Connolly knew he had lost out early on. Although he lasted into the final count, his 754 votes could not get him past the 903 of Mr Crowe who was deemed elected without having reached the quota.
It was late into the night when counting started on Galway City West, but the presiding officer Joe Considine decided to proceed, rather than having to call everyone back the following morning.
The quota was 1,465 and there was no surprise when Independent Donal Lyons zipped past it, obliterating all opposition on the way, by topping the poll with a first preference vote of 1,843. Fellow Independent Catherine Connolly was safe on 1,180 and was elected on the fifth count with 1,480.
After this, Galway City West became near impossible to predict. John Mulholland, on only 778 first preferences, was on the way out. The battle for the last three seats was between Hildegarde Naughton (an astonishing 1,061 first preferences ), Peter Keane (869 ), Neil McNelis (798 ), and Niall Ó Brolcháin (706 ).
It was no surprise when Ms Naughton was elected (at about 2.30am on Sunday ) after transfers from John Mulholland took her to 1,466. The real surprises lay with the others.
As the votes progressed Cllr Ó Brolcháin looked to be catching up with his rivals. Although he drew decent transfers from across the board, he was always short of truly challenging messrs McNelis and Keane. Ironically it was 335 votes from Cllr Ó Brolcháin that gave Mr McNelis a total of 1,346, enough to see him elected without having reached the quota.
Mr Keane however astonished everyone. His first preference was impressive and put him in real contention - something many did not see coming. He drew modest transfers, but 299 from Val Hanley and 94 from Cllr Ó Brolcháin saw him rise to 1,358, outstripping John Mulholland (1,167 ) and becoming elected without having reached the quota.
Although it had been a marathon day, night, and morning, supporters of messrs McNelis and Keane still had the energy to cheer wildly when they were elected and the strenght to hoist them on their shoulders.