IF FINANCE Minister Brian Lenihan moved against Brian Cowen back in September, he could have been the man leading Fianna Fail into the general election.
The aftermath of the 'Garglegate' fiasco was the time to strike, but Mr Lenihan waited and saw the EU-IMF bailout damage his reputation among ministers who felt they were kept in the dark, as well as with the public at large.
And, in recent months and weeks, Mr Lenihan has alienated both Brian Cowen loyalists and rebels in Fianna Fail. The loyalists didn't vote for Mr Lenihan because they felt for a long time that he was agitating against Mr Cowen.
"I voted for Martin," one said yesterday.
"Why should we vote for him (Lenihan) when he was always moving against the boss? Micheal never did that. He moved when he did because he thought Lenihan was going to act."
Others said Brian's brother Conor and his aunt, Mary O'Rourke, also damaged his chances.
Although TDs believe Conor Lenihan's PR blitz over the past week, when he repeatedly called on Mr Cowen to resign, was not on behalf of Brian, they were still uncomfortable with it.
Ms O'Rourke's suggestion of a meeting in early January on the leadership issue also annoyed some people.
They were even more annoyed when she said last week's meeting was too late, and that Mr Cowen should stay on.
"She was only doing that because she knew Brian would lose," a rural TD said.
The final implosion came last week, when Mr Lenihan decided to back Mr Cowen in the confidence motion.
Rebel TD John McGuinness went on RTE's 'News at One' and delivered a hammer blow to the finance minister.
"He did encourage dissent, he did encourage us to look at the numbers," Mr McGuinness said.
It had always been assumed that Mr Lenihan would at least come second to Mr Martin, but Eamon O Cuiv gained late momen-tum and overtook him.
TDs reported a late surge to Mr O Cuiv through Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
Some thought he was the man best connected to local organisations and communities.
"There was a feeling he was genuine and would put in the hard yards," one TD said.
A large number of the Cowen camp also swung behind Mr O Cuiv, pushing Brian Lenihan -- the one-time favourite -- to third.