LEADING bookmakers have installed Labour's Ivana Bacik and the late Tony Gregory's former election agent Maureen O'Sullivan as the two early favourites in the Dublin Central by-election.

Popular Fine Gael Senator Pascal Donohoe, who was the sole candidate in the field for many months before other parties even named candidates, is in third by the bookies' reckoning.

They have installed Fianna Fáil as 6/1 outsiders. The Soldiers of Destiny are on their knees nationally. The government is arguably the most unpopular in history. There is even a joke internally in the party that in the current climate they would not win a by-election in Mount Street – the location of party headquarters.

But ignoring Fianna Fáil's chances in Dublin Central is akin to ruling out Kerry's chances of winning the Sam Maguire in any given year.

It is the home of the greatest political machine of the last 30 years – the 'Drumcondra Mafia' and if Bertie Ahern can kick-start the machine one more time, his brother Maurice cannot be ruled out.

One Fianna Fáil activist said: "There were about 70 people at the meeting on Tuesday night in St Luke's. The room was packed and it was just like the old days.

"It is going to be difficult for Maurice but he believes he can do it. The machine there is still as strong as ever. It is just like a general election. There is a timetable in St Luke's and people sign up to say what time they are available to get out knocking on doors. If he can pull it off, it will be some coup for Bertie."

If Bertie Ahern can help his septuagenarian brother win a by-election when a government party have not won a by-election since Noel Treacy in 1982, it will be as sweet as his first general election victory back in 1977 when the 'Drumcondra Mafia' was born.

Expert election analyst Sean Donnelly explained the importance of transfers in by-elections, especially in Dublin Central, to the Sunday Tribune this weekend.

While it is already being mooted that George Lee could have a landslide win in Dublin South by taking the seat in the first or second count, nobody is making such bold predictions for Dublin Central.

Predicting a possible transfer pattern for Dublin Central, Donnelly said: "You would expect that the Greens [David Geary] will be first to be eliminated and these transfers will probably go to Bacik and O'Sullivan as you would expect them to go to the left rather than to Fine Gael.

"The next big tranche of transfers will be Christy Burke's and you would expect they will also go to O'Sullivan. After O'Sullivan doing well in this first large tranche it will be down to O'Sullivan, Donohoe and Bacik and Maurice Ahern may go out of the race.

"If Maurice goes, his transfers definitely won't go to Fine Gael, so they will probably go to Bacik and O'Sullivan."

After the distribution of Ahern's votes, O'Sullivan and Bacik could go ahead of Donohoe and if he is next to drop out then Bacik could sneak the seat on Donohoe's transfers.

Donnelly added: "A common feature of many by-elections is the way one outstanding candidate seems to come to the fore after a few weeks of the campaign – this was seen with Catherine Murphy in Kildare North in 2005 and Mildred Fox in Wicklow in 1995." This 'outstanding candidate' has yet to emerge in Dublin Central.

Donnelly believes Labour's strong showing in Dublin in opinion polls will help Bacik. That said, the polls put Fine Gael as the country's leading party but Donohoe will still find it difficult to garner votes in the inner city, leaving Bacik and O'Sullivan as the frontrunners.

Tony Gregory left a legacy of respect across conventional party lines that cannot be quantified by any analyst or journalist. The question remains if O'Sullivan can retain the 'Gregory vote' but she may take transfers from just about everywhere.

Last week, a Labour activist told the Sunday Tribune that the local organisation would not get behind a 'parachute candidate' and they will concentrate on their own local election campaigns. Bacik started her door-to-door campaign last Thursday evening and she rubbished the 'parachute' tag.

"When I stood for the European elections in 2004, I polled 11% in Dublin Central, which was one of my top three constituencies in that election. I have done a lot of the ground work there and I have canvassed with local election candidates such as Claire O'Regan so I have a solid base there due to the strong Labour team in the area."

Christy Burke will be announced as the Sinn Féin candidate for the by-election later today. In 1987, Burke and Gregory spent two weeks in Mountjoy Prison after protesting in support of Dublin's inner- city street traders so O'Sullivan is likely to benefit from Burke's transfers.

David Geary will stand for the Greens and Malachy Steenson will stand for the Workers Party.