FOR the first time since his inaugural Dail election in 1981, Fine Gael's Michael Noonan topped the mid-western constituency after receiving 30 per cent of the vote.
Mr Noonan's surplus would ensure that his party colleague Kieran O'Donnell was within touching distance of the quota last night after he failed to surpass it on the second count.
Mr Noonan's result was a complete turnabout for the former secondary school teacher from the disastrous 2002 General Election and he will today set about preparing for European negotiations on the controversial EU/IMF bailout package.
Labour's Jan O'Sullivan was also on course to retain her seat.
But Willie O'Dea's supporters were left reeling last night as the former Defence Minister struggled to reach the quota -- a first since 1982.
His vote was estimated to be down 58.4 per cent on his 2007 election result.
Not since Des O'Malley and the Progressive Democrats ruled the old Limerick East constituency a quarter of a century ago has Fianna Fail performed as poorly in Limerick.
It was the first time since November 1982 that Mr O'Dea did not reach the quota on his first-preference votes.
Last night, he was battling for either the third or fourth and final seat.
Should Mr Noonan's surplus have transferred well to Mr O'Donnell, Fine Gael was on course to take the second seat.
But it looked more likely that Labour's Jan O'Sullivan would do so.
Ms O'Sullivan's final position would rely on transfers from her colleague Joe Leddin.
Outgoing Fianna Fail junior minister Peter Power never stood a chance.
He was comprehensively beaten well before noon yesterday.
Sinn Fein's Maurice Quinlivan tallied well, with an excess of 3,700 first preferences.
The Limerick city councillor could be on course to enjoy increased success at further elections.