Credlin is widely credited with taming Abbott's larrikin impulses, transforming him from an outspoken and accident-prone political head kicker into a credible alternative prime minister.
Julie Bishop is gushing. It's her last news conference before the election and the deputy Liberal leader is cranking up the hyperbole in praise of her friend, colleague and boss.
Peta Credlin: "The fiercest political warrior ever." Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
''We have come to know him as our captain and our coach,'' she enthuses. ''He's often the best on ground. But it's when the game's over and we are back in the change rooms that Tony's real talents come to the fore.''
There is a momentary pause as a frisson of mirth ripples through the media throng. The news hounds' gaffe-meter is flashing amber. A hint of the hot musk shade of Bishop's designer blazer lights her cheeks before she ploughs on through the prurient minefield in desperate search of rhetorical safe ground.
''He supports us all. He unites us all. He inspires us,'' she says, dragging the eulogy back on track. ''He brings out the best in us and over the past four years he has been such a tremendous asset to the Coalition. We wouldn't be in the position we are in today without Tony Abbott.''
Mutual admiration society: Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott. Photo: Andrew Meares
The game now over, the captain-coach back in the change rooms with the trophy secured, Abbott can safely bask in the glory of the premiership he has coveted since childhood.
But on Thursday morning, as he and Bishop toured the operations centre at the Brisbane traffic authority there was no room for hubris or self-congratulation. There was a flicker of pleasure at his deputy's exuberant tribute, but just as quickly Abbott, gaunt, set-jawed and steely-eyed, was back on message.
''I want to be an infrastructure prime minister,'' he declared, rattling off a list of road-funding projects across the country, including Melbourne's East-West Link and WestConnex in Sydney that would take shape under a Coalition government. ''I want to get Australia moving again and that means building the roads of the 21st century.''
Brian Loughnane: headed Abbott's campaign. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
A few hours later, when shadow treasurer Joe Hockey at long last reveals details of the Coalition policy costings, we learn that being an infrastructure prime minister also means abandoning a raft of other major transport projects and slashing $4.5 billion from future spending on foreign aid. The roads of the 21st century are not paved with gold, just the charity promised to our poorest neighbours.
On Friday, when Abbott the former seminarian was pressed by 3AW's Neil Mitchell on whether he had been praying for help to secure the prime ministership, he invokes Hamlet: ''There's a divinity that shapes our ends.'' In reality, it was a temporal power that played the pivotal role in shaping Abbott's resounding victory: the ruthlessly well-oiled Coalition election machine.
The audacity of the Coalition's victory was that it was built on a series of largely overblown policy postures, it was enabled by the puncturing of the myth of Kevin Rudd's popularity and it was sealed by an almost faultless campaign executed with precision and discipline.
ELECTION 2013: TO THE POLLS
Prime Minister elect Tony Abbott leaves his home in Forestville in Sydney for his early morning bike ride. Photo: Kate Geraghty
Late last week Joe Hockey was overheard chatting with Liberal Party federal director Brian Loughnane in the foyer of Melbourne's Park Hyatt Hotel. ''It's been a six-year campaign but the first two years we were fighting each other,'' said Hockey.
Abbott's one-vote win over Malcolm Turnbull in the Liberal leadership ballot in December 2009 was a turning point for the Coalition. It ended the funk in the Liberal ranks after the defeat of the Howard Government and the ill-fated experiment of Turnbull's leadership. And it was the starting point for Abbott's brutally effective war of attrition against Labor - first under Rudd and then under Julia Gillard - that set the stage for Saturday's victory.
Unlike Rudd, who had to scramble from the moment of his return to the leadership in late June to build an effective election strategy with his depleted and divided parliamentary ranks and a polarised Labor Party apparatus, Abbott effectively had been campaigning for four years with the same team and a hard-wired strategy targeting Labor's electoral vulnerabilities.
"The Age just left the solar system. All signs are lost": Mark Textor. Photo: Jesse Marlow
Two critical players in the crafting and execution of that strategy and the underpinning of what Abbott described on Saturday night as his ''long, long journey'' to power were the husband and wife team who are poised to be a more formidable force in the new government than they have been during the years in opposition.
Brian Loughnane spearhead the backroom operation that Abbott declared to be ''the most professional campaign ever'' while Loughnane's wife and Abbott's chief of staff, Peta Credlin - ''the fiercest political warrior ever'' - commanded the field operation through the 33 gruelling days of the campaign.
This was the fourth Liberal federal election campaign run by Loughnane, a reserved career political junkie described by Howard as ''a very dependable straight-shooter''. The first saw the return of the Howard government in 2004, followed by defeat in 2007 and Abbott's breathtaking near miss in 2010.
Loughnane ran the critical backroom team at the Liberals' campaign headquarters - CHQ to the legions of Abbott's foot soldiers - housed over two floors of an office building in Melbourne's Spring Street. While Labor allowed considerable media access to its headquarters in William Street, on the other side of Melbourne's CBD, the Coalition bunker was strictly off-limits.
CHQ operated 24 hours a day throughout the campaign with teams monitoring media, analysing polling and focus-group research, driving marginal seat strategies, micro-managing any sudden crises and fine tuning Abbott's daily program and messages. The 100-strong team included a mix of political campaign veterans such as former Howard senior advisors Tony Nutt and John Griffin and squads of smart young party operatives, including a clutch sent by Loughnane to study Republican strategies during last year's US presidential election.
An important element in the success of the Abbott campaign was its vastly superior management of the internet and social media - not least, as Fairfax revealed on Saturday, its brazen harvesting of Facebook profiles.
Pollster and strategist Mark Textor, a crucial player in the management of the Liberals' marginal seats campaign and its media monitoring, blitzed the Twittersphere to drive home policy messages, counter negative reporting and joust with critics of the Coalition.
His baiting of adversaries provided some of the most memorable tweets of the campaign. Read one: ''PUTTING YOUR TWEETS IN ALL CAPITALS AND ADDING EXCLAMATION MARKS WILL WIN THE ELECTION!!!!!!'' After The Age editorialised in favour of a Labor vote, Textor responded: ''The Age just left the solar system. All signals lost.''
Abbott's campaign field operations were run by Peta Credlin, a formidable figure who controls the leader's office, rules his staff and the parliamentary backbench and is known to make even senior frontbenchers quake. Branded ''The Queen of No'' for her often direct and abrasive management style, Credlin is widely credited with taming Abbott's larrikin impulses, transforming him from an outspoken and accident-prone political head kicker into a credible alternative prime minister.
While the Rudd campaign became synonymous for chaotic organisation - and outcomes - the Abbott caravanserai was run with military precision, and security to match. Aboard the campaign bus and plane, the media were herded with courtesy - but never told where they were going or what Abbott was doing until moments before they arrived. His events were carefully scripted and choreographed to minimise the risk of headline-grabbing mishaps.
The cavalcade of minders on the road included Philip Ruddock, the ''father'' of the House of Representatives after 40 years in Parliament. He was at Abbott's side throughout the campaign, a sage sounding board for the man who was still a schoolboy when Ruddock first arrived in Canberra.
''I've just been there in case he needed me,'' said the terminally taciturn Ruddock. ''You can give me as much credit as you like but he has done a great job to get us to this position and he has had a very focused and substantial team working behind him. Tony has been very disciplined and on-message. If there was problem in the past, we haven't seen it this time.''
Two days before the vote, as Abbott did a street walk at a suburban shopping strip in the heart of Wayne Swan's Queensland electorate of Lilley, Ruddock said he saw portents of the demolition of Labor under Gough Whitlam. ''It reminds me of '75 with Fraser. When things move for you, they can move very decisively.''
While the victory failed to match the Whitlam rout it was still decisive. But perhaps the most important element in the success of Abbott's campaign was the failure of Rudd's.
As the spike in Labor's poll numbers that greeted Rudd's return to the leadership in late June was exposed as a dead cat bounce and the myth of his great electoral appeal began to dissolve, so too did Labor's delusion that Abbott was unelectable.
And as the Rudd campaign lost momentum, there was a corresponding decline in the pressure on Abbott to properly explain his policies and their costings. He was able to get away with coasting to the finish line reciting a catalogue of slogans and shamelessly hiding the pretence of accountability on costings until the final hours of the campaign.
His pitch was reduced to a sound bite, repeated so often it became subliminal for voters and soporific for journalists: ''If you want the carbon tax gone, if you want the mining tax gone, if you want the boats stopped and if you want the roads of the 21st century built, you've got to vote for the Coalition.''
Never mind that the plan to scrap the carbon tax will collide with a hostile Senate, that the mining tax was a dud anyway, that stopping the boats (as confirmed by the eleventh hour costings) is an aspirational timetable not a guarantee and that the roads of the 21st century will muscle aside a raft of important public transport projects.
But even Labor stalwarts have expressed grudging admiration for the way in which Abbott outflanked them. ''You have to give it to him, he ran a good, opportunistic campaign,'' said former climate change minister Greg Combet.
So confident was the Abbott camp in the end that they wound up their public campaign on Friday morning, not with the 36-hour final barnstorming of the 2010 election, but with a casual outing to cuddle puppies at the guide dog school in the electorate of Kooyong in Melbourne, one of the safest of Liberal-held seats.
At a drinks party with the travelling media in Sydney that evening, his campaigning done and the first of several chardonnays under his belt, Abbott laughed loud at the brazenness of a stunt that duly delivered front-page pictures in newspapers across the country on election day. ''That was pretty amazing, taking you all to the puppy factory,'' he declared.
We wait to see whether the self-proclaimed ''junkyard dog'' of his early days in politics will be as cuddly in power as he wants us to believe he will be, or whether we've all been sold a pup.
Mark Baker is editor-at-large of The Age.