WHEN ENDA Kenny's leadership style and communication skills were brought into question following the departure of George Lee, the "Real Enda Kenny" came out fighting and upped his game. But have we seen the birth of the 'New Brian Cowen' in recent days?
With Fianna Fáil languishing in third place behind Labour in a recent opinion poll, the writing may already be on the wall for Cowen and his party's future election prospects. But after two torrid years in office, he appears to have adopted a new strategy in the past week.
In mid-May 2007, it looked as if Fine Gael was about to seize power following Fianna Fáil's disastrous start to a general election campaign overshadowed by the controversy surrounding Bertie Ahern's personal finances. But Cowen came into his own in the last days of the campaign. He won the debate on the economy and did more than anyone else in Fianna Fáil to ensure Bertie Ahern's third election win.
When Ahern left office there was little argument in Fianna Fáil over who should be his successor. Based on the evidence of the 2007 election campaign alone, Cowen was the natural choice. Since then, he has struggled in the role of leader, albeit in horrendous economic circumstances, and he has even admitted himself that he has had difficulty communicating his message.
Innately cautious, Cowen has had little rapport with the media and he has had a poor public image but he now seems to have decided to adopt a different approach.
After months of relentless attacks from the opposition that included Labour leader Eamon Gilmore accusing him of "economic treason", Cowen has started to fight back.
His performances in the Dáil last week recalled the man who snatched the 2007 election from the jaws of defeat. Instead of absorbing Dáil attacks from Kenny and Gilmore and responding with a mumbled response, Cowen hit back more last Tuesday and Wednesday than he has in some time.
He accused Kenny of "flip-flopping on his basic economic policies" and after he jokingly invited Fine Gael party whip Paul Kehoe to the next Fianna Fáil ardfheis, Cowen gave a rare smile and an even rarer look up to the press gallery.
After he was interrupted by heckles from the opposition benches on Tuesday, he said: "I am supposed to stand here, take the opposition's analysis, sit down and say it is right. Is that it?"
Cowen clearly feels that enough is enough. The opposition has had him on the ropes for so long he has decided to throw a few punches in retaliation.
After these hints of the 'New Brian' in the Dáil, Cowen really demonstrated his intent with his speech to the North Dublin Chamber of Commerce at DCU on Thursday night. In typical Cowen style, the speech was 7,000 words long and it tried to explain six separate issues, some of which were broken into 10 points.
But, behind all that, there was a message. He rejected opposition criticism of his management of the economy, claiming no agency or political party had warned about capital reserves in Irish banks in the years preceding the property crash.
After getting a mixed reaction to the speech in Friday morning's newspapers, the Taoiseach, whose relationship with the media is often hostile, embarked on a media blitz.
He appeared on RTE's News at One before sitting at a round table in the Sycamore Room in Government Buildings for a 45-minute briefing with political correspondents.
So why make such a speech? And why now?
"Now that we have been doing the work in implementing the reforms in the banking system, I felt it was timely to set the record straight from my own point of view and the government's point of view about our side of the story," he said.
"There has been a very politicised narrative and there have been a lot of myths thrown around in the white heat of controversy in the last year or 18 months. I felt that it was important that we remind everyone of the context and the content of the policy positions that we made.
"There is a lot of rewriting history going on, a lot of revisionism, and from my point of view I just wanted to set out the situation as I saw it.
"I have been accused of economic treason in these debates and I have had to answer that." In a pointed attack on Gilmore's recent accusation, Cowen labelled it a "hyperbolic charge" made in a "partisan, hostile, political atmosphere".
He said; "I am not prepared to allow people make those charges and let them lie."
When asked why he will not say 'sorry', Cowen pointed to a radio interview on 29 June last year when he said he claimed full responsibility for all his actions.
Defending his record as Minister for Finance, Cowen claimed the opposition was disingenuous in attacking him as they called on him to spend more during the boom.
He said: "I brought through budgets in the Dáil and it is on the record that opposition politicians were calling me Ebenezer Scrooge. I am not a Dickens specialist but I know that it doesn't suggest over-generosity when you are being portrayed in that way."
In reaction to Cowen's media blitz, Kenny accused him of a refusal to accept responsibility for "driving the economy up on the rocks" and Gilmore accused him of "engaging in self-justification".
When asked about the reaction to his speech, Cowen told journalists he was "delighted" as it has "opened up a debate that wasn't being had".
A recent newspaper headline read: "Cowen has failed to talk the talk, even as he has walked the walk".
If last week is anything to go by he has attempted to talk the talk.
The question arises: will Cowen continue to fight like it is May 2007 all over again? Or will he retreat back into his corner?
It is debatable whether we have a new Brian Cowen in our midst. But he has certainly kick-started one hell of a debate.