For most onlookers, this Presidential Election was a foregone conclusion.

From the very first opinion poll to the RTÉ exit poll – Michael D Higgins is on course to be re-elected as the country’s head of State and on the first count.

The RTÉ poll shows the incumbent is very popular across the board irrespective of gender or age.

Though, it is worth noting that he is particularly popular amongst women and also younger voters – very interesting when you consider the debate about his age. For the vast majority of voters – it was irrelevant.

In fact the single biggest factor cited by people when voting was the track record and experience of the candidates. The least important was the finances and salary of the president.

Exit poll: 61% of voters think term of presidency should be reduced

But, the RTÉ Exit poll throws up some surprises – it suggests Peter Casey will come second with 20.7%.

A lot of people will be surprised, very surprised especially given his comments about Travellers and some of his very personal criticisms of President Higgins.

But, clearly his message resonated with large sections of voters. For those who voted for him, the exit poll indicates his stance on political and social issues was important. This was followed by his ability to stand up for ordinary people.

Whether you agree or disagree with his opinions, Peter Casey also played the media well -  he got the most exposure and up until last weekend he was front page news for deciding to stay in the race. Many though, will interpret his performance as a protest vote.

The other former judges on the Dragons' Den programme did not fare so well, to put it kindly. According to the exit poll, Gavin Duffy got just 2% and Seán Gallagher 5.5%. The latter you could argue ran the same kind of campaign as in 2011. But a lot has changed since then.

There’s no way to say it nicely, Seán Gallagher’s support has collapsed – in 2011 he received 28.5% of the first preference vote. The RTÉ exit poll puts him at 5.5.%.

Interestingly, if you look at the vote of the three former judges on the Dragons' Den programme - accumulatively their vote amounts to around 28%, so perhaps that 2011 vote is holding but is now fragmented with the newcomer Peter Casey taking the lion’s share.

Separately the exit poll puts Joan Freeman on 6.3% - beating Seán Gallagher and Gavin Duffy.

But, for me, the real political story of this campaign is Sinn Féin. It has been a disastrous election for the party.

Look at the previous general and presidential elections – Sinn Féin has consistently been building its support which has plateaued at around 15%.

However, the RTÉ exit poll puts Liadh Ní Riada on 7.4%. That’s a serious blow and one that the party leader, Mary Lou MacDonald will have to take full responsibility for.

It was one of her first key decisions as party leader to run a candidate although some in her party quietly questioned the strategy.

So, if Mary Lou McDonald received plaudits for her party’s role in the referendum on the Eighth Amendment – then she takes a lot of the flak for this performance.  In her own words - which she consistently tells others – the buck stops at the top.