THIS year's Leinster Colleges SFC will have a distinctly Connacht flavour if Athlone CC's pre-Christmas form continues in the new year.
The Westmeath school won the North Leinster League final last month, with the decider taking place at the home of St Brigid's in Kiltoom, Roscommon.
Manager Niall Finneran, who helped guide the midlands school to Leinster glory in 2008, can call on players from the Galway, Roscommon and Westmeath minor panels, and they were able to work their panel during their league run to set themselves up well for the championship tilt.
They welcome a young Ardscoil na Trinoide side from Athy to Athlone IT today for their first-round clash.
"It is a really, really big one for us," Finneran said. "It is a matter of getting the lads focused and making sure that, after all the work we have done over the last few months, we don't leave it in the dressing-room.
"We know we are good enough, we know that we are as good as Athy, it is just a matter of who works the hardest."
Finneran can draw on Galway minors Brian Shaughnessy and Eoin McCormack from Ballinasloe, Roscommon's Ronan Daly and Westmeath's Ray Kinnellan and Michael McMahon.
"We take from Galway, Roscommon, Offaly and Westmeath – although we've no one from Offaly on this year's panel," Finneran explained.
"They'd be in great shape now, we've been meeting three times a week since the last week in August.
"There is a great camaraderie built up after that, but the season really starts now."
Athy manager Tom Nolan will field a team primarily made up of U-16s, but he is not using that as an excuse as his side make the trip focused on booking their place in the next round.
He can call on Kildare minors Pascal Connell and Michael Kelly as well as Laois underage player Daniel Hickey, and Rory Feely, younger brother of Charlton Athletic's former Bohemians defender Kevin, who was also a Kildare U-21 player.
"It is a tough one," Nolan admitted. "But we feel we will be there or thereabouts. We are quite hopeful."