Imagine a keen student of politics trying to grasp the Micheál Martin riddle. He lost three consecutive general elections, in 2011, 2016 and 2020.
And just last week he was left presiding over Fianna Fáil when it had a worse popularity rating than its worst ever electoral meltdown.
But then, with one bound, our hero was set to become Taoiseach. How did he do that?
The short answer is that Micheál Martin has seen Irish politics change all around him over his 31 years at Leinster House - and he has managed to successfully navigate those changes.
When the Cork schoolteacher was first elected to the Dáil in June 1989, Fianna Fáil usually topped 40pc of the vote. It generally also led the government, bar a few occasions when an "Anyone But FF coalition" was pulled together by the other big beast of Irish politics, Fine Gael.
But that June 1989 Martin debut election is worthy of note for another reason. In its aftermath, Charlie Haughey had to break a 60-year-old Fianna Fáil taboo and share cabinet seats with another party.
All of Micheál Martin's years at Leinster House have been coalition years for Fianna Fáil. Martin watched Haughey's successor, Albert Reynolds, make a hash of two consecutive coalitions, and he was then a key lieutenant of the master of three different coalitions, Bertie Ahern.
The Cork South Central TD was tipped as "Taoiseach material" for over 20 years. Eventually, that unrealised designation became a big liability as less supportive party colleagues dubbed him the "former future leader".
But Martin is nothing if not a fighter. He is also vastly experienced at the top in government - serving in four key ministries: foreign affairs (2008-2011); enterprise (2004-2008); health (2000-2004); and education (1997-2000).
He was a member of new Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern's first frontbench in January 1995, and remained at the top in the party until its fortunes fell apart amid a bank collapse and a massive recession in early 2011. The relationship with Ahern was not always a blessed one.
The then-Taoiseach appeared to enjoy watching him flounder as health minister in the period 2000-2004, perhaps because it took the gloss off a potential leadership rival. Martin's big problems as health minister, in a time of plenty, were mitigated by the ground-breaking workplace smoking ban in March 2004.
He did also show some mettle by facing up to his boss, Ahern, in 2008 by advising him to quit and stop trying to ride out controversy about his personal finances.
That same mettle came to the fore again in January 2011, when he took over the leadership of a very battered Fianna Fáil and led them through their worst-ever election.
The party was reduced to 21 TDs and a 17pc vote share. Some less seasoned political observers were writing Fianna Fáil's political obituary.
But Micheál Martin applied himself to the revival project and made gains in local elections in 2014 and in the 2016 Dáil election when he more than doubled its number of TDs. His speciality was bucking gloomy opinion poll predictions and facing down internal party opponents.
But the big things expected of him in the recent February 2020 General Election did not happen. The party performed poorly with 22pc of the vote and the loss of six TDs bringing them to just 38 Dáil seats.
Since then, the portents appeared even gloomier for Martin and Fianna Fáil with a recent opinion poll putting them down as low as 13pc - four points below its 2011 electoral meltdown.
Yet, despite all this, Micheál Martin hung in on those marathon coalition talks and is now all set - against the odds - to become the next Taoiseach. Dáil arithmetic and Fine Gael's shared antipathy towards Sinn Féin played hugely in his favour.
The outcome dispels the persistent shadow that hung over Micheál Martin - that he would be the first Fianna Fáil leader never to have been Taoiseach. His regaining of the Taoiseach's office, almost a decade after it was vacated by another old colleague, Brian Cowen, will help steady nerves in the party and restore some badly needed morale.
But there are longer-term question marks left hanging over the future. The new shadow will be called Sinn Féin and the big question will be this: Can Fianna Fáil do enough in government to offset persistent criticisms by the new lead party of opposition?
Can Micheál Martin and his party put their names on enough economic and social progress in a post-coronavirus world? This is a huge challenge in a political environment where voters are frequently seeking the next panacea, and voter gratitude is increasingly scarce.