On and on it goes, the great Dublin churn.
In Limerick on Sunday, after a topsy-turvy League win had been made completely safe, Dessie Farrell brought on three more players for their senior debuts, taking the total after two games of this fledgling season to seven.
Adam Fearon, Seán Lowry and Ben Millist became – in order – the 26th, 27th and 28th debutants of Farrell’s time as Dublin manager.
It makes an interesting list.
Some have already fallen away. Others, with the benefit of a season or two experience, are scheduled to bloom around about now. More again are at the very start of that journey.
But only a small, very select few have had any significant influence on Dublin’s summers to date.
One thing is undeniable: a list of those brought in compared to a list of those that have gone since 2020 shows a clear shortfall. To one of the great inter-county football squads, a process of natural erosion has fully taken hold now.
On Sunday, it was put to Farrell that while the Dublin production line was still chugging along at a healthy speed, the quality of that product wasn’t nearly so refined, or already assembled, as it once was.
He didn’t completely reject the hypothesis.
“The responsibility there is to try and keep the conveyer belt ticking over,” Farrell noted. “Everyone will have a view on that. We’ve worked hard in terms of putting a development squad in place and trying to blood as many players as we could.
“We used the O’Byrne Cup for that purpose this year and we’ve seen some new players get exposure in the two games to date. So look, it doesn’t happen overnight. Talent needs to be nurtured and we need to be patient with it.”
This requirement for patience is a recent phenomenon for a Dublin manager.
Jim Gavin wasn‘t the sort to throw jerseys around for sport, mainly because he didn’t have to.
Gavin sprinkled in just enough freshness to a potent, winning mix. Annually he stirred the pot just enough to stop it curdling.
No-one was rushed. Prime prospects like Brian Howard and even Con O’Callaghan had to bide their time.
But equally, no-one was safe. Even Gavin’s most important players, bar maybe two or three, trained with the fear of a genuine threat of losing their places.
It's hard to imagine that dynamic now.
It should be noted here that Dublin were without 10 viable championship starters in Limerick on Sunday, where they won at a canter.
And that roll call of their first 15, particularly if Paul Mannion and Jack McCaffrey return to it, is a highly accomplished one with genuine All-Ireland prospects for this current year.
But the next layer, Dublin's bench and extended panel, hasn't regenerated to the same quality.
Farrell’s issue here isn’t a reluctance to test out players. It’s the conversion rate.
In 2020, his first year as manager, having inherited practically all of the squad that landed a fifth All-Ireland in a row the previous year, Farrell gave league debuts to six men.
Of those, only Tom Lahiff and Aaron Byrne had any subsequent championship involvement as Dublin made it six on the spin in an empty, frozen Croke Park.
A year later, with Covid still interrupting plans for a rebuild, only three new players; Michael Shiel, Seán MacMahon and Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne got a taste of league football for the first time in an abridged competition, just four games in length.
Ó Cofaigh Byrne had already made his championship debut under Gavin as a late sub in a dead rubber in Omagh in 2019, but MacMahon, Ryan Basquel and Cian Murphy all made theirs that summer, albeit without any breaking into Farrell’s first 15.
Last year, after Dublin’s first championship defeat in seven years and the first ‘normal’ league campaign of his tenure, Farrell accelerated the evolution.
In all, 11 players made their league bow in 2022.
Just two; Lee Gannon and Lorcan O’Dell made any dent in Dublin’s championship team.
Brian O’Leary had one brief substitute’s appearance in Leinster and both Shane Clayton and Eoghan O’Donnell made brief championship debuts without playing a minute in the league.
Early days, but the trend of 2023 is broadly similar. Trial and error.
It won’t be for a lack of trying that Farrell doesn’t cultivate a deeper panel.
In two games, he has already handed league debuts to seven players; David O’Hanlon, Greg McEnaney and Killian O’Gara against Kildare, and on Sunday; Dara Newcombe, Fearon, Lowry and Millist.
Where the penetration to his championship team or squad will come from isn’t immediately apparent.
Of the 28 players Farrell has given their first taste of inter-county football, only Gannon, Lahiff and O’Dell are regular championship starters.
For a team that has come up short in consecutive All-Ireland semi-finals, three players in three years represents a tiny breakthrough rate.
Meanwhile, Dublin’s central men seem more certain of their places now than they were only three years ago. And an injury to any of those (see: Con Callaghan in 2022) is likely to have a much more profound impact on the team's strength.
None of this, of course, is any of Farrell’s fault. But it is his problem.
THE GREAT DUBLIN CHURN
Retirements/opt-out: Diarmuid Connolly, Jack McCaffrey *
League Debut: Tom Lahiff, Cian Murphy, Eoin O’Brien, Dara Mullin, Dan O’Brien, Aaron Byrne
Championship debut: Lahiff, Byrne
Retirements/opt-out: Stephen Cluxton, Cian O’Sullivan, Paddy Andrews, Michael Darragh Macauley, Rory O’Carroll, Paul Mannion, Eric Lowndes
League debut: Michael Shiel, Seán MacMahon, Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne
Championship debut: MacMahon, Ryan Basquel, Cian Murphy
Retirements/opt-outs: Philly McMahon
League debut: Lee Gannon, Ross McGarry, Calum McCormack, Lorcan O’Dell, Darragh Conlon, Ciarán Archer, Killian McGinnis, CJ Smith, Alex Wright, Harry Ladd, Brian O’Leary
Championship debut: O’Dell, Gannon, Shane Clayton, O’Leary, Eoghan O’Donnell
2023 so far
Retirements/opt outs: Jonny Cooper
League debut: David O’Hanlon, Greg McEneaney, Killian O’Gara, Dara Newcombe, Adam Fearon, Seán Lowry, Ben Millist
*left panel in March that year