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Lise Hand: Victor left with an inner glow as battle smoke clears

AS the smoke of battle cleared yesterday you might have thought that the born-again Brian Cowen was living in a Bord na Mona advert.

He was lit up by an inner glow taking questions in the Dail yesterday and quickly dispelled any doubts that he was master of his own party and commander-in-chief of the Government.

It was not what his critics expected on the morning after the night before when he supped to success and celebrated victory. Yet after the rejoicing it was back to the grim reality of his party's 14pc standing in the polls and his own standing in single figures. He faces a number of hard choices. For example, does he reshuffle the front bench to bring fresh blood into the upcoming election campaign?

What does he do with ministers of state who publicly stated that they have no confidence in him or a member of Cabinet who declined to support his leadership?

He also has to kick-start an election campaign that has no money, no manifesto, is short of candidates and has no director of elections.

Then he had to meet John Gormley and discuss the date of the general election.

You can be sure Mr Cowen harrumphed when he heard Mr Gormley hinting on RTE's 'Six One News' that the Greens may choose to approve -- or veto -- any new appointments to Cabinet.

Yet even without the party-pooping noises from the Greens, it is not in Mr Cowen's cautious nature to make such a radical change a couple of months before an election.

Mary Hanafin is unlikely be sacked for her Jesuitical vow of silence over her vote in the confidence motion, according to sources who say she is already paying a high price.

And the Taoiseach understands why the Cork-based minister of state Billy Kelleher voted against him and is unlikely to exact revenge. He may even be as understanding to minister of state Conor Lenihan, who wrote that the FF leader was a "dead man walking" in a newspaper article about his opposition to Mr Cowen's leadership.

Reflecting back yesterday, Mr Cowen was purring like a tomcat. His two-to-one victory in the vote over Micheal Martin was a party matter but Mr Cowen couldn't have been happier if a major oil discovery had paid off the national debt. He was magnanimous in victory but was not shedding any crocodile tears for Brian Lenihan or Mary Hanafin -- both consenting adults in a rough trade.

Yet Mr Cowen was said to be very impressed with the intelligence, skill and dignity that Micheal Martin employed through his campaign.

Yesterday, nearly everyone in Fianna Fail accepted that Mr Martin will be the next party leader -- and Mr Cowen is almost certain to be a TD. Will Mr Cowen serve in a frontbench led by Mr Martin in the 31st Dail?

Irish Independent