Ireland South: Kelly tops the poll in South but very strong showing by TD Wallace steals the show
Outgoing Fine Gael MEP and former GAA President Sean Kelly comfortably topped the European Parliament ballot in Ireland South but was just 1,422 votes short of being elected on the first count.
The marathon first count for the sprawling 12-county constituency indicated that former Fianna Fáil and Cork TD Billy Kelleher is poised to take a Brussels seat with 84,083 first preference votes, second in the ballot.
But the big surprise of the election was the strong performance of Wexford-based Independent TD Mick Wallace, who secured a whopping 81,741 votes and came third on the first count.
Outgoing MEP Liadh Ní Riada of Sinn Féin is also well placed to be re-elected with 79,072 votes.
A desperate battle now looms between five candidates for the final three seats.
Outgoing Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune, Mr Wallace, Senator Grace O'Sullivan of the Green Party (75,946), Liadh Ní Riada and Councillor Malcolm Byrne of Fianna Fáil now all face a battle for transfers.
Junior Minister Andrew Doyle (Fine Gael) polled 38,738 votes and is unlikely to be in contention for a seat.
Further, it remains unclear whether his transfers will be enough to help his colleague Deirdre Clune (64,605) hold her seat.
Labour's Sheila Nunan polled 22,075 and is not expected to be in contention. Fianna Fáil's two candidates and Independent Mr Wallace performed much better than Friday's exit poll indicated.
Geographical factors in the sprawling constituency are now likely to prove decisive to the outcome.
Cllr Byrne surprised many with the strength of his vote, delivering an impressive 69,166 first preference ballots - just 15,000 behind his high profile running mate Mr Kelleher.
It now appears likely that the fifth and final seat may not be finalised until the early hours of Thursday.
Ireland South - which has an electorate of 1.4m - had a total poll of 755,000 votes.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin said he was "hopeful" that late count transfers could see the party's two candidates elected.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, who is Fine Gael's director of elections for Ireland South, also insisted he remained "hopeful" that the party could retain its two MEP berths.
"If the figures are precisely as they are in the exit poll I would give a very good chance to Deirdre Clune MEP of taking a second seat for Fine Gael," he said.
Mr Kelly also warned against writing Fine Gael off from retaining their second MEP berth.
"There are going to be a whole pile of transfers and if they fall the right way they are going to push some candidates up quite a lot," he said.
Mr Wallace said he was buoyed by the support he received.
"My passport is in order for Brussels," he joked.
"It is amazing the level of support I got.
"They are telling me that it is looking good. If I go to Brussels I guarantee you I will remain a thorn in the side of the Government here. I promise you that."
Senator O'Sullivan warned it would be "a very, very long wait to see which way the transfers break" with pundits saying she was still firmly in the hunt for an MEP seat.
Ms Clune acknowledges that she faces an uphill battle to defend her seat.
"I have been here before and you absolutely do not know what is going to happen. There is a long way to go and I will try to hang in there," she said.