It was no surprise that Brian Cowen retained his leadership of Fianna Fail and won a vote of confidence on Tuesday night from his party.

Given how cleverly he flushed out his opponents and outmaneuvered them, no other result was likely .

He will now lead the party into the next general election, set for the end of March in all likelihood.

For months there had been background rumblings about Cowen but no senior figure would put their name to the discontent.

It came to a crescendo last week with yet another opinion poll forecasting damnation for the party in the upcoming election.

Cowen also got embroiled in a damaging story about a golf game and dinner with Sean Fitzpatrick, former Chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, the poster boy for the collapse of the Celtic Tiger.

Cowen, displaying keen political acumen, decided to try and lance the boil and go for a vote of confidence in himself, thereby forcing his unnamed opponents to either challenge or go home.

Ironically, he took a page out of the playbook of main opposition leader Enda Kenny who when faced with a similar challenge, called a vote of confidence on himself and caught his opponents off guard.

In the event Foreign Minster Michael Martin raised the flag and came out swinging against his boss Cowen.

It was far from ideal timing for Martin, who recently tragically lost a daughter to illness.

He found himself fighting on Cowen’s turf with very little time to gather his forces.

Cowen had left only 48 hours between his decision and the vote of no confidence and grabbed the initiative right from the start.

Columnist Fintan O’Toole, writing in The Irish Times, stated that if Cowen has shown anything like the political adeptness dealing with the financial crisis that he did dealing with the leadership challenge Ireland would be in much better shape.

That will remain the abiding memory of Cowen, a politician capable of great accomplishments but strangely passive at key times.

As for Martin he is no longer foreign minister but is likely the leader in waiting if Cowen fails in the next election, which seems certain so he has done himself little harm in the long run.

As to what kind of party he inherits however, it is impossible to say.

Some estimates say they may only be returned with 25 or so seats.

But just two elections ago Fine Gael came back with only 31 seats and are now poised to become the major government party with close to 70 seats according to some polls.

So Fianna Faill will certainly be down, but perhaps not out after the next election