There was an element of unpredictability about the election in East Londonderry this year with DUP big beast Gregory Campbell (in Westminster), unionist stalwart David McClarty (sadly passed on) and John Dallat of the SDLP (retired) all absent from the ballot paper.
But while no-one put up a number anything like that of 2011 poll-topper Campbell’s 6,319, the DUP vote consolidated fairly evenly around its three contenders.
Former Coleraine mayor Maurice Bradley, who was announced as a DUP candidate when Campbell opted for Westminster over Stormont, topped the poll in terms of first preferences with 4,630.
He was closely followed by Limavady-based DUP veteran George Robinson who received 4,567 on the first count.
Inevitably, this ensured the party would retain their three MLAs in the constituency as Adrian McQuillan, on 3,477, was a guaranteed beneficiary of his running mates’ surpluses upon their election after the fourth count.
Mr Robinson said: “We’re absolutely ecstatic about the result that we had. I put it down to the people of East Londonderry who put their trust and faith back in me again after nine years and the great team that I had as well behind me.
“They walked their feet off through thick and thin for four weeks and I salute each and every one of them.”
Mr Robinson said the party branch were well aware they wouldn’t have as strong a front runner as Campbell this year but the DUP backroomers worked the numbers to perfection.
With the DUP all but assured of consolidating their position it was the battle within nationalism that was the centre of all the action.
This year, as in 2011, there were two Sinn Féin candidates, outgoing MLA Cathal Ó hOisín and newcomer Caoimhe Archibald, and one SDLP candidate, newcomer Gerry Mullan, chasing John Dallat and Mr Ó hOisín’s old seats.
Ó hOisín’s first preference vote was down considerably from the 4,681 he polled in 2011 to just 3,493 on Thursday.
Whether by vote management or otherwise Archibald was the top-polling Sinn Féiner with 4,002.
This ultimately made it an interesting three-way battle between David McClarty’s protégé and impressive outgoing independent Claire Sugden, who received 3,270 on the first count, bettering her late mentor’s last total, and Ó hOisín and Gerry Mullan (3,265) for the final seats.
As play was suspended after stage six, with just Maurice Bradley and George Robinson, safely home, Ó hOisín was looking vulnerable.
Alliance candidate Yvonne Boyle’s 1,541 surplus votes will be distributed on Saturday when the count resumes.
At this remove it looks likely McQuillan and Sugden will take seats and Mullan and Ó hOisín will battle it out for the sixth.
EAST LONDONDERRY CONSTITUENCY (first preference votes)
• Caoimhe Archibald (Sinn Fein) 4,002
• Jordan Armstrong (TUV) 1,191
• Yvonne Boyle (Alliance) 1,257
• Maurice Bradley (DUP) Elected 4,630
• Aaron Callan (UUP) 1,067
• Stuart Canning (Conservatives) 50
• Tor Christie (Independent) 61
• Amber Hamill (Green) 434
• David Harding (Conservatives) 216
• William McCandless (UUP) 1,789
• Adrian McQuillan (DUP) 3,477
• Gerry Mullan (SDLP) 3,265
• Cathal óhOisín (Sinn Fein) 3,493
• Steven Parkhill (UKIP) 274
• George Robinson (DUP) Elected 4,567
• Claire Sugden (Independent) 3,270
• Russell Watton (PUP) 1,356
• TURNOUT: 50.25%