Journalists tend to get very excited about elections. For me, it’s the unpredictable nature of them, and, on a professional level, the buzz and anticipation that surrounds the count, the adrenaline rush of getting a result and going live on air to announce an upset or indeed a dramatic win for one of the parties.

They are exhausting but exciting to cover, because, for the most part, you never really know what’s going to happen.

I remember my first count at the Omagh Leisure centre for the Assembly elections, in March 2007.

I’d been working as a reporter at the Impartial Reporter and was also covering the count for Downtown Radio as a stringer. The experience was fascinating for a young reporter like myself, just a few years in the job.

I remember the anticipation, waiting with journalists from various other media organisations for the numbers to come in, to see who’d made the cut and who would be ousted. Watching politicians as they mingled in the count centre, it felt like a window into their lives, a rare opportunity to see them on tenterhooks as they awaited their political fate.

That particular year had drama of its own kind, as police arrested Independent candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Gerry McGeough, as he left Omagh leisure centre, for the attempted murder of former UDR soldier, Sammy Brush, in 1981.

Mr Brush, who is now a DUP councilor, had also been in Omagh leisure centre for the count, so for me as a journalist, it all made for an interesting set of events. It’s certainly a memory that stands out in my mind. That election saw the DUP take 36 seats while Sinn Fein secured 28.

Both parties made gains from the UUP and the SDLP respectively and as the moderates were squeezed further, the election reinforced the power of tribal politics in Northern Ireland. With the polls that followed, political polarisation increased.

During those years, even I, as a journalist with a keen political appetite, was growing weary of the so-called democratic process. For voters in many constituencies, certainly outside Belfast, there appeared to be little meaningful choice outside the two main parties and few opportunities for change. Certainly for moderates, like me, on both a personal and professional level, it was a breeding ground for apathy.

Fast-forward 12 years to 2019 and it is apparent for the first time that there may be a viable alternative vision of Ulster with Alliance Party leader Naomi Long and Clare Bradley of the Green Party in the driving seat.

As political cartoonist Iain Knox astutely illustrated in The Irish News at the weekend, the landscape can still be seen as orange and green, but a different kind is rising.

The gains made by the Alliance Party, increasing its representation from 32 to 53 councillors in areas across the north, are a significant achievement. They also send a clear message that there are an increasing number of people throughout Northern Ireland who want something different than what they’ve been given by politicians over the past decade and are going to vote in order to get it rather than sitting, frustrated, on the sidelines.

I know several people, who were so disillusioned with the same old faces touting the same old rhetoric along green and orange lines being returned time after time, that they had abstained from the last number of elections.

For various reasons, including the ongoing impasse at Stormont and the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Derry, they felt this election was one where they could and should vote for progressive rather than tribal politics.

Of course, it would be easy to get carried away with the performance of the centrist parties, thinking Northern Ireland had turned a corner.

While there’s no doubt that Alliance, among others, have made a significant breakthrough, the DUP and Sinn Fein remain the two biggest parties and the tribal politics of unionism and nationalism is still a powerful force here.

If they are to make a lasting impact, the other parties will have to build on the momentum they have so passionately created in this election. For now, at least, it seems politics can offer an alternative.