Michael's 'fifth column' can put it up to Rock
Newbridge my dark horses to rattle a few cages in Leinster
There was a time when the two sure-fire indicators that a school would be in the shake-up for Senior Cup glory were firstly, how they fared in the Junior equivalent three years previously and secondly, the number of players who were in their final year, with physical and mental maturity a central ingredient for success.
Nowadays, though the Junior Cup criterion of three years before still stands, recent trends suggest an increasing number of fifth years stepping up to the mark.
This is not always the case, but certainly Clongowes 2010, St Michael's 2012 and Blackrock 2013 went the distance with squads that might well have been considered a year ahead of their time.
To apply that rationale this time round, watch out for St Michael's again – and I'll leave it at that.
But therein lies the beauty of the campaign about to click into gear. We have a competition in which four, and maybe five, sides could go the distance.
Based on all available evidence, the race for the Leinster Schools Holy Grail will be between the mature Blackrock (favourites), followed closely by Michael's and Clongowes, with the black and white of Newbridge (my dark horses to rattle a few cages) and Belvedere next in line.
The introduction of the 'rolling draw' in the immediate aftermath of each round has undoubtedly added to the drama and uncertainty. The Leinster Schools committee, with Conor Montayne and Larry Halpin now in situ, are to be commended for continuing this initiative, which was set in train by Lorcan Balfe and Caleb Powell, and Kevin Kelliher before that again.
The same rolling system will also operate at JCT level.
The action kicks off on Sunday when 2003 winners Terenure and 2012 top-guns St Michael's go head-to-head at Donnybrook (2.30).
The 'Nure, runners-up to Rock in 2009, were bitterly disappointed at not living up to their pre-tournament billing as out-and-out favourites a year ago.
The best squad to come out of Roscrea put a halt to their gallop at Tallaght Stadium in a memorable quarter-final, with the overriding level of expectation a contributing factor to the demise of the Terenure hot-shots.
Well, 12 months on and with just four players back from that multi-talented squad, the heat is off.
For Charlie Cregan, James Ryan and the Michael's squad of 2014, however, the spotlight is most definitely on. Terenure, with Andy Roche, Michael Melia, Rob Lalor and Tim Schmidt still on board, will not want for quality in the right areas, but the strength in depth of Brian O'Meara's exceptionally talented Ailesbury Road squad should make this a hurdle too high for the D6W school.
Next up it's Belvedere and Wesley – and a formidable Wesley outfit at that – on Tuesday at Donnybrook.
Narrowly beaten (28-26) in a thrilling league quarter-final by eventual runners-up Roscrea, the Balinteer school, under Carl Hosford and Iain Wallace, will expect to put it up to the 2008 winners in a big way.
But Belvo have been coming good of late and will be expecting a place in the last eight. I expect them to succeed.
After that, the first-round games come fast and furious, with the remaining six down for decision on Wednesday.
At Donnybrook, Rock front up to a CBC Monkstown side that, while blowing hot and cold, have already got the better of their great rivals this season.
Down at Carlow RFC in Bagenalstown, it's a repeat of the pre-Christmas League final when winners Newbridge meet a Roscrea side much closer to full strength.
On their own admission, Roscrea let a great opportunity slip last year, but, under John Lillis and Alan Tynan, they have quickly moved on. That said, anything other than another Newbridge victory would be a major surprise.
King's Hospital meet Qualifier 1 (the last one standing from CUS and Gonzaga) at Lakelands, while at Anglesea Road Qualifier 2 (either St Gerard's or Vinnie Murray giantkillers CBS Wexford) will tackle a St Mary's side in red-hot form with six wins on the bounce going into the main event.
Elsewhere, Kilkenny College will put it up to Clongowes at NUI Maynooth, where the Clane school will have the greater firepower behind to see them through, while at Templeville Road, Castleknock will be highly fancied to get the better of St Andrew's College – though there's a chance of an upset here.
Bitterly disappointed to lose out to eventual winners Newbridge in the semi-finals of the league, the Booterstown squad will fancy their chances of making the last eight at least.
Take the winner of this contest to join Blackrock, Newbridge, Belvedere, Kings Hospital, Clongowes, St Michael's and St Mary's in the last-eight draw.