By Martina Purdy
BBC NI political correspondent
They say life begins at 40 and if you are a political party, it turns out to be true.
2010 has turned out to be Alliance's year. The year its leader took a ministerial post and the year that it knocked out a unionist heavyweight.
Sweet irony for the Alliance Party whose best ever chance of Westminster was in 1979, the year a young turk called Peter Robinson upset the balance of power in East Belfast in a tight race.
That was the year Mr Robinson beat out Ulster Unionist William Craig and Alliance's Oliver Napier in a narrow three-horse race.
Since then Alliance's route to Westminster has been the Lords.
Alliance's Naomi Long who won the East Belfast seat
But opportunity knocked when the DUP veteran, Mr Robinson, became embroiled in a series of controversies involving both himself and his wife.
But speculation that the DUP leader was in trouble in his heartland was often met with scepticism that anyone could actually do anything more than embarrass Mr Robinson by eating into his majority.
Indeed the perceived wisdom was that his would-be assassins, Naomi Long and the Conservative and Unionist Trevor Ringland, would knock each other out.
What swung it for Ms Long was a lacklustre campaign by Conservative and Unionists and a well-organised onslaught from Alliance.
Ms Long had the advantage of profile, a track record and a year in the Lord Mayor's parlour. There was also a shrewd leaflet that suggested only Alliance could topple the DUP.
It noted how close Ms Long was to Mr Robinson's vote in the assembly. The Conservative and Unionists complained that it was a false comparison. It worked, as did the personal letters to voters offering lifts to polling stations.
Indications of DUP difficulty were evident last night when a DUP official seemed unhappy to hear turnout was up in Dundonald. What did queues at some polling stations there mean?
Peter Robinson lost the Westminster seat he held for 31 years
Those voters had been moved in from Strangford, once the stronghold of Mr Robinson's wife Iris.
There were other clues too. "I never saw as many people hand back the DUP leaflet, or refuse to take it," said one Conservative and Unionist as he waited for the boxes in East Belfast to be opened.
But even he did not foresee Naomi Long knocking out the DUP champ.
This was confirmed by TUV candidate David Vance who could not quite believe his eyes when boxes from Belmont Road and Dee Street showed Ms Long well ahead.
Mr Vance graciously admitted he had got it wrong when he suggested days ago that Alliance's hopes of gaining the seat belonged to "cloud cuckoo land."
While the TUV had a disappointing night, the party is no doubt finding comfort in helping to defeat Mr Robinson with Mr Vance's 1,856.
Overall, the TUV failed to match expectations created by the 66,000 votes it won in Europe. Instead of leaving the DUP incumbents with black eyes, eight DUP MPs were elected, with a few scratches.
Their majorities dipped but not significantly. Instead it was the Conservative and Unionists who got the bloody nose. The New Force failed to do its part in what many expected to be a pincer movement against the DUP.
The Conservative and Unionist candidates dipped below previous results. The Ulster Unionist deputy leader Danny Kennedy was a notable exception. Mr Kennedy reversed fortunes in Newry and Armagh, outpolling the DUP MLA William Irwin and boosting his vote by 5%.
SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie won in South Down
And so, the Conservative and Unionist New Force is lying in tatters like a pile of volcanic ash. And in North Antrim the DUP citadel has been well defended. Its mountain of votes dwarfing Jim Allister's 7,114 molehill.
Will he have the stomach to continue into the assembly? It's not the bridgehead he hoped for.
What is clear is the Paisley stock is up and the Robinson stock has crashed. So the Paisleys will have a big say in who should lead the DUP in the coming days.
With the TUV threat much subsided, the power-sharing deal done, what do they need Mr Robinson for? That will be a question on the DUP minds no doubt.
While speculation will continue about the fortunes of the respective unionist leaders, there's no such debate on the nationalist side. The new SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie won easily in South Down and so did her colleagues in Foyle and South Belfast.
The party however will be reeling from results in West Tyrone where Joe Byrne slumped to around 5,000 votes. And of course what will happen to Fearghal McKinney.
His vote was essentially cut in two. Can he win in an assembly poll next year in Fermanagh South Tyrone? In West Belfast, Alex Attwood improved his vote by a splinter.
Will he be rewarded with Margaret Ritchie's social development post in a bid to help him defend his seat in next year's assembly election? Expect a bun fight over that.