The DUP’s William Irwin was ecstatic to top the poll in Newry and Armagh - emphatically pushing the UUP into second place in terms of unionist domination in the area.
Irwin won 7980 first preference votes - up from his 6,101 in the 2011 assembly election, while his UUP rival Danny Kennedy took the top unionist position five years ago with 8718. Overall there is expected to be no change today in the seats held by the parties - 3 Sinn Fein, 1 DUP, 1 UUP and 1 SDLP.
Mr Irwin told the News Letter his view on why he had topped the poll.
“It was simply down to hard work on the ground and delivering for people,” he said, also paying tribute to his sizeable group of election workers.
He said that poor UUP vote management could not be blamed for his success.
“If you look at the two UUP candidates and put their votes together, they are still over 1000 votes behind me,” he said. In fact he led their combined total on the first count by 1235 votes.
The other big story so far is that excellent vote management by Sinn Fein had two candidates elected on the first count - Cathal Boylan (6822) and Megan Fearon (6838) - with their running mate Conor Murphy polling 5854 so far.
Mr Murphy topped the poll in 2011 with 9,127 votes, and Mr Boylan said that disciplined vote management this time would capitalise on Murphy’s personal profile with a more even spread of votes across three candidates.
The SDLP’s Justin McNulty won 4775 first votes in the first count while his running mate Karen McKevitt won 3923.
By the fifth count, around 8.30pm, no further candidates had been elected, with three seats remaining vacant. UKIP, Alliance, Green Party, and independent Martin McAllister had all been eliminated by this stage.
Turnout in the area was down slightly at 59.32% having been 59.7% in 2011.