JUST under six months since they made their 2010 Championship exit at the hands of eventual All Ireland Finalists Down in O'Connor Park, Tom Cribbin's Offaly team return to competitive action this Sunday against DCU.
A relatively strong showing by a young Offaly side in the Qualifiers in 2010 has given rise to a cautious sense of optimism that this team can go well in both league and championship in 2011.
However the side that takes to the field this Sunday against the students will bear little resemblance to the side that runs out against Wexford in the summer.
With Rhode still involved in the Leinster Club Championship and with a number of players lining out for their colleges ahead of the Sigerson Cup, Tom Cribbin and his selectors will be down a number of players but that will give them the chance to run the rule over a number of players on the fringes of the panel.
For the players handed a jersey on Sunday, it is an excellent opportunity to show the management what they can do at the highest level and to stake a claim for inclusion in the squad of 24 for the rest of the year.
It will be a tough baptism for any newcomers on Sunday as DCU are the defending Sigerson Cup Champions and will be at their peak fitness ahead of their defence of that competition next month.
Offaly meanwhile could only begin training collectively again last weekend after the enforced winter break and they will be behind the fitness levels of their opponents.
Offaly exited the O'Byrne Cup last season at the hands of DCU who then went on to defeat Louth in the final.
The students are no doubt targeting a similiar preparation for the Sigerson this year and they should give Tom Cribbin's charges a very beneficial early season workout as Offaly prepare for a run at promotion from Division 3 in the Spring.
With that in mind and while acknowledging an understrength home side go into the game as underdogs, it is important, whatever the result, that the team puts in a strong performance to set the tone for the challenges ahead.
The game throws in at 2pm this Sunday in O'Connor Park.
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