DUBLIN will take their first tentative steps towards defending their provincial title when they encounter Carlow in the opening round of the Leinster Minor Football Championship at Dr Cullen Park this Saturday evening (7.0).
Last year's Leinster champions were denied All-Ireland glory in the cruellest manner possible last September with the majority of that exceptional panel over-age for this current campaign.
It would be grossly unfair to compare the current panel with last year's selection given they have yet to taste championship fare, but there were encouraging signs in Dublin's retention of the Leinster Minor Football League, culminating in their comeback win over Meath in the final 10 days ago.
Naturally, Dublin would have used the league to assess the relative merits of all the players ahead of the cut and thrust of the championship and team manager Dessie Farrell was generally content with what he learned.
"To be honest, winning the league wasn't especially important. It was just important to us that we were allowed to give game time to all of the panel ahead of the championship," he said.
"I think that it's only right that you give all of them a half-decent run at establishing themselves and you would always want to be fair to all the players involved and the league gave us an opportunity to do that," added the Na Fianna clubman.
Despite the perceived benefits in maintaining the same management from last season, Farrell's task this year will be slightly different to that of a year ago, given the 2011 selection had been under his stewardship since they came together at the under-14 Development panel age.
The knowledge accrued from spending five years with roughly the same panel cannot be overestimated and although Farrell isn't necessarily starting from scratch, it adds a particular handicap to replicating the hugely impressive campaign of last summer, a fact acknowledged by the 1995 All Star.
"Certainly, I was very familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of last year's team and that was very beneficial when selecting a panel to choose from.
"This year is very different and that's why the league was probably more important this year than last as we've been trying to gauge what players possess the relevant qualities that we would be looking for," said Farrell.
Dublin are unfortunate in the sense of so few players being eligible from last year's campaign with only dual players Eric Lowndes and Cormac Costello having started that All-Ireland defeat to Tipperary, so a degree of uncertainty with regard his final panel has been inevitable. "With only two lads from the starting 15 last year available, the make-up of this year's selection will of course be entirely different.
"Of course, we still have a lot of very good players at our disposal but I would stress that the panel is definitely not cast in stone at the moment.
"We've made a number of cuts recently, but the panel is still open. There is still an open-door policy in operation and we would hope that some people make a late push towards selection," added Farrell, who maintains the same selectors as last year (Alan 'Nipper' McNally, Philip McElwee) with the exception of Noel McCaffrey.
As for the challenge that Carlow present, Farrell is acutely aware that despite very little form to go on, Dr Cullen Park is traditionally a very awkward venue for visiting teams and he expects a similarly uncomfortable encounter on Saturday evening.
"It is always very hard to know at this level what to expect. What we do know is that it is a very tricky place to go and that Carlow have a very good manager in Seán Dempsey. We expect a very difficult match," said Farrell, who confirmed that David Sexton from St Sylvester's is unlikely to feature on Saturday after pulling a hamstring in training last Sunday.