FINE GAEL party stalwart Michael Noonan scooped over 30 per cent of the vote in Limerick city, and topped the poll for the first time in his 30-year career, after an election described as â€œmomentousâ€ and â€œhistoricâ€.
Deputy Noonan, who is now favourite to take the key Finance Minister job, saw his first preference vote increase by a whopping 77 per cent from 2007.
By contrast, Willie Oâ€™Deaâ€™s first preference vote was down by 64 per cent.
Flanked by hundreds of supporters in the University of Limerick Arena, where the count took place, Michael Noonan advised: â€œYou must be prepared to keep running ... Endurance is a lot in politics,â€ he said.
Elected on the first count, the 67-year-old received 13,291 first preference votes. He indicated his preference for a Fine Gael/Labour coalition early in the day, stating: â€œIâ€™m not a great believer in working with a handful of Independents because they are high maintenance and itâ€™s difficult to secure stability into the future.â€
Fine Gael city councillor Cormac Hurley burst into song, with a blast of There is an Isle, after Kieran Oâ€™Donnell took the second seat, amid more wild celebrations.
The Monaleen-based Deputy Oâ€™Donnell promised that under Fine Gael Limerick will be â€œthe forgotten cityâ€ no more. He crossed the line on the fifth count, after the elimination of Cllr Kevin Kiely (Independent) and Sheila Cahill of the Green Party.
Fine Gael claimed 43.3 per cent of the vote in the city - a swing of 17.8 per cent on the last election.
â€œItâ€™s a major protest vote right from the backbone of the constituencies,â€ said Independent county councillor Pat C. Fitzgerald.
Fianna Fail heavyweight Oâ€™Dea was elected on the sixth count - a first in a 30-year political career characterised by election at the first count. His running mate, Peter Power, lost his seat, after receiving just over 2,000 first preference votes.
The outgoing deputy, who served as Minister for overseas development, said his party had faced a â€œtsunami of oppositionâ€ from the electorate.
Labour and Sinn Fein had also been hoping to cover greater ground, but Noonanâ€™s transfers to his running mate Oâ€™Donnell put paid to their ambitions.
Labourâ€™s Jan Oâ€™Sullivan was elected on the seventh count after failing to reach the quota of 8,638, and claimed the last seat in the reduced four seater constituency.
Together, she and first time candidate Joe Leddin received 14.67 per cent of the first preference vote, with over 8,660 votes.