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'I've covered elections for 30 years. This one feels different'.

The party leaders by Irish News cartoonist Ian Knox. From left to right: Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, People Before Profit's Eamonn McCann, Alliance Party's Naomi Long, Green Party leader Steven Agnew, UUP' s Mike Nesbitt, TUV's Jim Allister and DUP leader Arlene Foster 

A year ago this week, on a business trip to the US, I was given behind-the-scenes media access to a polling station in Arlington County as Americans exercised their democratic right on so-called 'Super Tuesday'.

All but a handful of the voters declared themselves for Hillary Clinton that day. She was a shoo-in. Seven months ahead of the election itself, few would dare have predicted the seismic shift that was about to happen in the States.

But if you were a Hillary fan (and a pro-European), you've probably come to expect disappointment after 2016.

These things can happen . . . which is why I've a gut feeling we're about to get something ever-so-slightly different over the next day and a half in Northern Ireland

There's been an inane predictability to covering elections here, as I've done for 30 years. It hasn't been pretty.

But this time I sense the public are giving the system a proper boot up the nether regions, and as the ballot boxes open and results trickle in over the coming few hours, we just might see a shift in people's expectations and finally put it up to politicians who've previous taken their support for granted.

It's as rare as a fully-honoured pre-election political promise that I would admit to being "excited" at covering an election count. Yet I am. And while the big parties might not lose overall control, they'll at least get a bloody nose - and it's about bloody time.

Gary Mcdonald is The Irish News business editor

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