As dawn broke over a slumbering Mallow, cheers of delight rang across the chilly early Sunday morning air as the marathon Cork East count finally reached its long-awaited conclusion.
When returning officer Noreen O’Neill read out the results of the first count at 7.55 pm on Saturday night it became clear that Fianna Fail’s Cllr Kevin O’Keeffe, who narrowly missed out on a Dail seat in 2011, would be elected.
“Fianna Fail are back in Cork East,” were the words on the lips of every party supporter in the hall, signalling the end of the first Dail term in the history of the state where the constituency did not have a Fianna Fail seat.
Later on in the night Kevin’s father, former junior Minister Ned O’Keeffe, wore a grin from ear-to-ear as he shook hands with supporters.
It was also clear from very early on that sitting Fine Gael TD David Stanton would be returned for the fifth time, albeit not as poll topper as many had predicted.
Although he felt some of the backlash his party had received across the country, his seat was never really in doubt.
Some one who many predicted might struggle was Labour’s junior Minister Sean Sherlock, with the early tallies causing his team a few anxious moments.
However, as the subsequent counts came in and transfers went his way Deputy Sherlock, who had topped the poll in 2011, gradually began to pick up transfers, restoring the smiles back to the faces of the party faithful and, much to the surprise of many, topping the poll for the second time in succession.
Given the poor showing of his party across the country, one could be forgiven for thinking he might well be in the mix when it comes to selecting a new party leader.
Speaking after he had been lifted aloft by his jubilant supporters, a beaming Deputy Sherlock said he was delighted to have "received such a strong mandate from the people of this constituency".
“To be honest I have yet to internalise this impact of this victory as it goes against the head when you look at the national situation, but i must thank my team for their hard work and commitment.
“I look forward to serving the people of the constituency for however long that may be. Politics is a tough business and my thoughts go out to the many good people who lost their seats today in mine and other parties,” he added.
With sitting TD Tom Barry (FG), going out on the fifth count, transfers not going the way of his party colleague Cllr Noel McCarthy and Senator Paul Bradford never realistically at the races, Sinn Fein’s Pat Buckley emerged as the favourite to take the fourth seat.
It came as no surprise that the of distribution of Noel McCarthy’s votes after the eighth count pushed Sean Sherlock, David Stanton and Kevin O’Keeffe (in that order) over the line.
The subsequent distribution of Deputy Sherlock’s surplus of 1,241 votes saw Cllr Buckley deemed to be elected without reaching the quota.
Deputy Buckley said he was “humbled” to take the seat and “delighted” on behalf of our team.
“I am just the captain of this team, which has worked unbelievably hard. They have been amazing. We know the work we put in. This is an amazing mandate to get from the people of the constituency and I look forward to doing so much more on their behalf,” he said.