THE best value bet of the past year or so is now no more. Before the events of the past 10 days, it was possible to get odds of around 7-1 or 8-1 on Richard Bruton becoming the next Taoiseach. In reality the odds should have been even money, at best.
Why? It has been patently obvious since the beginning of the year that Enda Kenny's leadership of Fine Gael was going to be challenged. It was also obvious that Bruton was the only alternative leader. If and when he moved, he had a 50-50 chance of unseating Kenny.
And, of course, whoever leads Fine Gael will become the next Taoiseach – despite the 'Gilmore for Taoiseach' bandwagon.
The bookies belatedly realised this last week, moving Bruton in to 4-7 to succeed Brian Cowen in the top job.
However, after Kenny's success in the confidence motion, the odds on Bruton becoming the next Taoiseach should be out in double digit territory. Unless he falls under a bus, the Mayoman will become Taoiseach and the Meathman will be left to contemplate what might have been – like the All Ireland final of 1996 in reverse.
The next general election is already done and dusted – to a degree that is probably without precedent. Fine Gael and Labour will be in power with a big majority.
Fianna Fáil will take a tonking and will be forced to rebuild from the backbenches with a new leader.
The only questions that remain relate to the numbers and when it will happen. Will Fine Gael achieve its potential and win up to 70 seats or will it be stuck in the mid-50s? Labour is going to have a very good election, but are we talking high 20s or could it get up close to 40 seats? Fianna Fáil is going to lose seats but will it come back with 50 seats (or possibly less) or 60?
The answers to those questions are crucial for the individual parties and the shape of the next government.
Enda Kenny was challenged last week not because the dissidents in Fine Gael didn't think he could become Taoiseach, but because they fear that the way things are going, the next government will be led by Fine Gael but dominated by Labour.
If Fine Gael was to win, say, 55 seats and Labour to win in the high 30s, then all the momentum will be with Eamon Gilmore. He would be in a position to demand up to seven seats at cabinet and possibly even make a claim on a revolving Taoiseach arrangement (although Fine Gael will rebuff that).
The other worry Fine Gaelers have is that if the two coalition parties are relatively evenly balanced, it could lead to paralysis in government, with Labour vetoing their policies. Their coalition of the mid-1980s was unable and/or unwilling to take the necessary tough decisions and it has taken Fine Gael a quarter of a century to get over it.
With Fianna Fáil in meltdown, Fine Gael should be aiming to get close to 70 seats which would put it in a powerful position in the next government, even if Labour also polls well.
Kenny's big challenge is not to become Taoiseach but to get Fine Gael well above 60 seats. If he is going to do that, he is going to have to lift his game and start convincing voters – particularly in the east of the country – that he has what it takes to be a decent Taoiseach.
Gilmore, despite being the smartest political operator in the Dáil, won't be Taoiseach.
Labour just doesn't have the infrastructure required to win seats in every constituency and that can't be changed in one Dáil term. A first preference vote of anything close to 20% would be a serious achievement.
Of course, Gilmore is right to talk himself up as Taoiseach material, even if he has got a ludicrously easy ride from the media and the two main parties for his 'oppose everything, propose nothing' approach. He will come under pressure to produce some beef.
But if successive polls and indeed the UK general election have shown us anything, it is that the electorate doesn't thank parties for delivering bad news and prefers warm, fuzzy and vague messages of change and hope. Gilmore understands that and will be able to resist the clamour for more detail. He will be the next Tánaiste but will badly want to be in a position to dictate the shape and policies of the new coalition.
Fianna Fáil (no more than Labour) is thrilled that Enda Kenny has survived the putsch and that senior figures in Fine Gael are likely to be relegated to the backbenches for the time being at least. But Fianna Fáil TDs know they are now in damage limitation mode, regardless of how Kenny performs between now and the next general election.
They would be delighted with anything close to 60 seats, but as of now 50 seats or less looks more likely.
Three by-elections in the autumn, along with a brutal budget to come in December, means that Cowen's position cannot be regarded as secure. Many opposition TDs now believe the government will run until 2012, but a little like Richard Bruton up to the events of last week, the odds on Cowen still being Taoiseach this time next year are 50-50, at best.