The Charlie McConalogue of today is somewhat different to the young barnstorming firebrand student politician I first encountered in UCD back in the late 1990s.
Then, he possessed a steeliness but an overt combativeness and, dare I say, aggression, which marked him out as an operator.
The 2023 version of McConalogue is more reserved, calmer even, but when chatting to him it is clear the steel that defined him in college is still there.
In his spacious office on the fifth floor of the Department of Agriculture, we begin our interview with his special adviser Patrick O’Donoghue monitoring from a safe distance.
From the top end of the Inishowen peninsula, McConalogue is the archetypal rural politician.
A farmer with a young family, he was first elected to the Dáil against the head in 2011 and then topped the poll in 2016, to some surprise.
Having clung on in 2020 amid stiff Sinn Féin competition, McConalogue was eventually elevated to Cabinet following the sacking of Barry Cowen and the resignation of Dara Calleary within seven weeks.
When we begin, he speaks of his “relief” on being reappointed to Cabinet and to the same job by Micheál Martin, the now Tánaiste, on December 17, amid talk of Fine Gael wanting his job.
“I was hoping that I would, and I was honoured and glad to have the confirmation he was going to reappoint me. Because in politics, you just never know,” he says.
“There was a sense of relief there that you can continue in your post and also it is good to have that endorsement,” he adds.
He says despite him staying put, it was only on the Saturday afternoon of the changeover that he “got the call” to make his way over to Government Buildings to be reappointed.
He says it was “nice” to be out in the Áras with the rest of his Cabinet colleagues as because of Covid, they were appointed in Dublin Castle back in 2020.
He admits, though, he didn’t want to “tempt fate” by having his young family in Dublin so he had a couple of friends there.
On his own fate, I ask him straight out does he want to be leader of his party.
“It is way too early to talk of such things,” he says.
“That is something you would consider at such a time. I will decide that at the time if it is relevant and if I was in a position to be relevant at that time,” he adds.
He goes on to say that not only does he expect Micheál Martin to lead their party into the next election, but that he actually wants him to, in sharp contrast to many in his party.
“Micheál Martin has done a tremendous job as Taoiseach and as leader of Fianna Fáil. He will, in my view, and I expect him to lead us into the next election. I fully want him to,” he says.
“I believe he will be the best choice as Taoiseach for the country after the next election and if we can deliver all that I expect to see him as Taoiseach after the next general election,” he adds with certainty.
Asked about speculation linking Mr Martin with a top job in Europe or the EU Commissioner’s post in 2024 (which will be a Fianna Fáil pick), McConalogue says he would “absolutely prefer” the Cork man to remain in domestic politics.
“I would absolutely prefer and I will be pushing for him to be the leader. I want him to be the leader going into the next election. I hope he chooses to do that. I think he has shown his mettle and capacity to run the country. The people have seen that,” he says.
“I think he is the strongest offering and option to be Taoiseach after the next election. I would be counselling him to continue to lead and be our leader into the next election,” McConalogue adds.
Another of McConalogue’s contemporaries in UCD was the new Attorney General Rossa Fanning, but is fair to say they did not share the same politics.
Is it a surprise to be sharing the Cabinet table with him, I ask?
“You never know who you will bump into, it is a small world. I am sure when were in UCD, Rossa expected to be AG but he did not expect to see me as minister sitting across from him,” he says, as we conclude.