A MIXTURE of design and circumstance have ensured that Jim Gavin won't be nearly so heavily stocked for the current O'Byrne Cup compared to last year during the initial competitive throes of his reign.
He said as much in Mullingar on Sunday after his team, concocted largely of wannabes and, possibly, soon-to-bes, carried the winning habit into 2014 by beating Westmeath by a solitary point, 0-12 to 0-11, in an opening battle brandishing all the scars of January combat.
That Ciarán Kilkenny kicked the winner and Stephen Cluxton kept goals ensured at least some All-Ireland final starting representation, with Darren Daly – a used replacement last September – and Jonny Cooper adding an additional coat of familiarity from the bench.
Two-thousand-and-eleven starters Kevin Nolan and Mick Fitzsimons were similarly recognisable flavours in a heavily experimental mixture. Bryan Cullen and Kevin McManamon were named, but pulled before throw-in, suggesting involvement for both players at this embryonic stage of the year.
"It's a pre-season tournament and it's there to try players out and to give them an opportunity to stake a claim for a squad place during the Allianz National League," said Gavin. "We took the same approach last year and we got a good few players from it."
That they did.
But of the 20 players that featured against Mayo on the day Cluxton lifted Sam Maguire, the Parnell's man, Ger Brennan, Jack McCaffrey, Cian O'Sullivan, Michael Darragh Macauley, Paddy Andrews, Diarmuid Connolly, Bernard Brogan, Paul Mannion, Denis Bastick, Daly and McManamon all wore blue in last year's O'Byrne Cup.
Largely, those that didn't were cup-tangled with their respective colleges.
Now, with the likes of Brogan, Andrews, James McCarthy and Dean Rock out until at least the end of January, according to Gavin, and others primed to enjoy a January of recuperation, there is greater scope for those with grand designs to force their way into Gavin's League plans.
We run the rule over five viable graduates for this spring.
SEÁN GEORGE (Ballymun Kickhams)
Right up until last year's All-Ireland club final, it seemed certain that George, a former Laois underage prospect before returning to his native Dublin, would join the large Kickhams contingent in the Dublin senior squad post-Paddy's Day.
And awkward experience marking Senan Kilbride may well have conspired against him.
Nevertheless, the 2011 All-Ireland U21 winner remained involved in a separate development squad which existed parallel to Gavin's, and a strong body of work for his club in their ultimately unsuccessful bid to retain their county title has put him back in contention.
A strong, aggressive tackler, George nevertheless could create competition for the more established Philly McMahon, Jonny Cooper, Kevin O'Brien, Mick Fitzsimons, as well as upcoming inside backs like Dublin's 2012 All-Ireland minor-winning captain David Byrne and quite possibly Ballyboden St Enda's Robbie McDaid, with Rory O'Carroll far out in front in terms of full-back line personnel.
ERIC LOWNDES (St Peregrine's)
Played O'Byrne Cup last year but faded away as summer came into view (he also suffered an injury-enforced lay-off) yet Lowndes refusal of Anthony Daly's offer for a spot on his hurling squad indicates a determination to batter his way to prominence.
In his vast favour, Gavin currently has none of his All-Ireland-winning half-back line available.
McCaffrey is studying in UCD and thus college-tied for the O'Byrne Cup. Brennan is out of the picture until late February at the very earliest due to his commitments to St Vincent's while McCarthy's lingering injury could yet rule him out of at least part of the League.
Kevin Nolan's enduring quality should ensure he challenges hard there too, but circumstances are almost certain to grant Lowndes spring game-time.
SHANE CARTHY (Naomh Mearnóg)
On January 30 last year, Shane Carthy played centre-forward for Portmarnock CS in their Dublin Schools Senior Football 'A' final defeat by Maynooth in DCU.
Four days later, he made his League debut for the Dublin seniors from the bench, as a late replacement for Emmet ó Conghaile in their win over Cork.
He remained part of Gavin's squad throughout summer but with his Leaving Cert now completed, he has a real chance to be counted for a more involved role in Dublin's midfield or half-forward line, particularly so given Cian O'Sullivan may yet be required in defence for parts of the League.
JASON WHELAN (Ballymun Kickhams)
Kicked 1-1 in a highly productive starting League debut against Mayo in last year's League semi-final in April and has all the usual tools necessary for wing-forward play.
Strong, mobile, a good kick-out option and a smart distributor, Whelan's League prospects are enhanced by Diarmuid Connolly's St Vincent's involvement.
Longer-term, Dublin's half-forward line of Connolly, Kilkenny and Paul Flynn – an area of particular strength through their successful All-Ireland odyssey – appears a tougher nut to crack.
CORMAC COSTELLO (Whitehall Colmcille)
Had events conspired only marginally more kindly for Costello, it might have been he, rather than Paul Mannion, who emerged as the 'bolter' in Gavin's All-Ireland-winning inside forward line.
As it was, he suffered two serious injuries; firstly a broken ankle in March (though he recovered and made his Championship debut off the bench against Westmeath) and a fractured collarbone in July, only resuming full fitness in the run-up to the All-Ireland final, at which stage any opening had been slammed shut.
Nevertheless, he showed smart touches in his O'Byrne Cup involvement last January, and possesses all the pace, ball skills, two-footed ability, balance and scoring power to cut it this year, albeit in an area of intense competition, even in the expected short-to-medium-term absence of Brogan and Andrews.