Dublin’s immediate exit from this season’s O’Byrne Cup has underlined the remarkable nature of last year’s success in the pre-season tournament.
With the senior squad on holidays in South Africa, a development panel was drawn together in mid-December and trained over Christmas as well as playing in the annual Blue Stars match before the holiday.
It was a fresh start for stand-in manager Paul Clarke as barely half a dozen players from Sunday's defeat by Wexford were involved in last year's final win over Louth.
The major motivation was the promotional opportunities granted to those who had done well last year by senior manager Jim Gavin. Niall Scully was the big success story from that development team and made four appearances in Dublin's All-Ireland winning championship campaign.
But another two of last year's players – Conor McHugh, Brian Howard – have also seen championship action albeit off the bench.
The pre-season involvement accordingly is seen as having credibility for younger players hoping to build senior careers.
In the absence of college teams in this year’s O’Byrne Cup, the number of fixtures were reduced and in a group with Offaly and Wexford, Dublin were under pressure once the former had beaten the latter by 16 points and then followed it up by launching a comeback to salvage a draw in Parnell Park last week.
If fortune slightly favoured Dublin 12 months previously it didn't on this occasion, as Killian O'Gara – impressive against Offaly – picked up a concussion and missed Sunday's defeat by Wexford whereas the more experienced Shane Carthy was also injured and aggravated a hamstring pull at the weekend.
Another player in form, 2017 under-21 Aaron Byrne, injured himself in the Blue Stars match and as a result missed out.
Having lost to UCD in the group last year, Dublin progressed after the Belfield students lost to DCU and Clarke’s charges beat Wexford. It was noticeable how the team’s performance levels radically improved in the knock-out stages with wins over Kildare in the last four and against Louth the final in Drogheda by nine points, 2-16 to 1-10.
As well as the turnover in personnel, Dublin's continuity was affected by the requirement that as many players as possible take part in the matches and the Leinster Council's trial rule allowing limitless replacements, a dispensation most teams treated as an opportunity to give players meaningful game time rather than use it for constant inter-change as in international rules.
Referees’ attitudes varied slightly in their assessment of the unlimited replacements with some strictly adding 30 seconds per change and others not as strict.
Given the shorter window of opportunity it will be more difficult to hand a comprehensive dossier to Gavin but a number of players had good campaigns. O’Gara’s display before injury will have been noted, as he lost most of last year to serious injury and will hope to be back in contention this season.
Colm Basquel has been regarded as a promising talent for the past while and played in the 2017 league but also lost time to injury. His commitment to and performances for the development squad, especially against Offaly, will keep him in the seniors' sights whereas another under-21 All-Ireland winning medallist from last year, Howard, also showed well, lining out at centre back.
One observation about the rising generation is that the players currently lack obvious physicality of the type provided by the likes of Diarmuid Connolly and Paul Flynn, whose ball winning ability and versatility have seen both line out at centrefield and play key roles as winners of primary possession.
Gavin will watch with interest to see how the younger generation develops in the year to come.