FIANNA Fail rebel Micheal Martin last night unleashed an intense 48-hour PR blitz to convince wavering FF TDs to remove Brian Cowen as party leader.
The Foreign Affairs Minister said the "very survival of Fianna Fail" was at stake as he finally emerged from the shadows to make his bid for leadership.
But an initial tally of TDs appears to suggest Mr Cowen is still in control ahead of a secret ballot to be held in Leinster House tomorrow night.
The Irish Independent was told by 19 TDs that they will be backing Mr Cowen, with just four saying they would vote against him, including Mr Martin.
Mr Cowen has far more publicly declared supporters, but a majority of the party's TDs have not yet stated their position because they did not return calls seeking comment last night.
Mr Martin emerged to take on his leader after a day of fast moving events saw Mr Cowen launch his bid to hang onto his job.
But he was isolated among his cabinet colleagues last night with the other leadership contenders not adopting positions.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said he was glad the Taoiseach had tabled the motion of confidence in his leadership.
A spokeswoman for the minister would not be drawn on how he would vote.
Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin declined to comment.
Social Welfare Minister Eamon O Cuiv immediately threw his weight behind Mr Cowen, becoming the first major figure in the party to indicate support for the Taoiseach.
Yesterday's drama came after weeks of revelations about damaging contacts with Anglo Irish Bank chiefs and widespread speculation about his leadership of Fianna Fail.
Mr Cowen surprisingly seized the initiative from any leadership challengers to outflank them in the crisis engulfing his party.
The Taoiseach put down a motion of confidence in his own leadership and said the vote would decide his future.
But he is confident he can win the vote to ensure he continues as leader running into the general election.
Just hours later attention immediately switched to Mr Martin, Mr Lenihan and Ms Hanafin, each of who are believed to have reportedly told their leader to quit.
Mr Martin hosted a press conference on his own last night and revealed how he had offered his resignation to Mr Cowen but this had been refused by the Taoiseach.
The minister said he believed Fianna Fail needed a new leader but said Mr Cowen could continue as the leader of the party until the calling of a general election.
Such a solution would be difficult to sell to the public already highly sceptical about Mr Cowen's tutelage.
Mr Cowen moved to take control of the Fianna Fail leadership crisis by putting it up to rebel TDs to vote him out of the position.
Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe was last night described as being key to the planning behind Mr Cowen's strategy.
Mr Cowen met with a number of close advisers over the course of the weekend and Mr O'Keeffe floated the idea of the confidence motion.
Announcing he intended to stay on as leader of the party, Mr Cowen challenged the rebels to vote against a motion of confidence in his leadership.
After talking with most Fianna Fail TDs over recent days, Mr Cowen claimed he has enough support to win the secret ballot on his leadership.
The Taoiseach insisted he was remaining as leader of Fianna Fail "in the national interest" and he did not believe his party colleagues wanted a new leader.
"I do not believe it to be in the country's interests nor do I believe it to be the settled collective view of my colleagues in the parliamentary party," he said.
"Having one line of authority as a Taoiseach and a separate line of authority in political decision making as a leader of Fianna Fail is not in my view a good idea.
"It could lead to confusion and dilution of authority for the persons concerned," he added.
Mr Cowen evaded questions on whether any of his ministers had asked him to resign or if a minister who went against him would be sacked.
Mr Martin appealed to the heart of Fianna Fail and said it would be "irresponsible" not to act to save its very existence.
But despite expressing no confidence in Mr Cowen's ability to lead his party, Mr Martin will stay in Cabinet -- effectively expressing confidence in Mr Cowen's ability to lead the country.
He offered his resignation to Mr Cowen but the Taoiseach declined to accept hit.
IT was Enda Kenny who spotted the internal tension at play within Fianna Fail. Last Wednesday in the Dail, as Brian Cowen explained his golf outing with Sean FitzPatrick, Micheal Martin sat further away from the Taoiseach than usual, studiously examining his performance.