"Willow Park are once again the team to beat as the 2011/12 Combined Counties League Senior Division kicks off this weekend", read the opening sentence of this reporter's Combined Counties League preview this time last year.
Unfortunately for the all-conquering Willow Park's closest rivals, the very same line seems appropriate for the coming CCFL Senior Division campaign, which kicks-off in earnest this weekend.
The 2011-12 campaign ended, for the fifth year running, with Willow Park clinching yet another league title, and Tony O'Sullivan's charges will take some stopping once more.
Though they might find things somewhat more competitive this year, as Mullingar Athletic - who made a notable effort to compete for last year's title before finishing nine points behind Willow - attempt to bridge the noticeable gap, Willow will ultimately be expected to triumph again.
To add further attraction to this year's top-flight, Athlone will now be represented by four teams, including Willow, as Melville Utd's promotion from the Premier Division adds to the local interest. Monksland Utd and St Peter's finished fifth and seventh respectively last season, and will be keen to build on those efforts.
Some onlookers might suggest the prospect of so many keenly contested local derbies will endanger Willow's hopes of a sixth straight title, but the more likely scenario (particularly to anyone who has followed their progress in recent years), is that such a fixture list will actually gladden Willow's players who, one suspects, will welcome a more roundly competitive competition.
Willow are idle this coming weekend and don't start their campaign until Wednesday, August 15 (when they face Monksland Utd. To date, Willow manager Tony O'Sullivan isn't overly happy with his side's pre-season preparations.
"It (the pre-season) hasn't gone great, to be honest. We've had a few things disrupting us, with people away on holidays and committed to other things at the moment, but hopefully that will calm down in a few weeks," said O'Sullivan.
"We have last year's panel still intact, and the likes of Aidan Hyland, Mark McConnell and Benny Magennis are coming back to proper fitness (after injury problems last year). We might add a player or two as we go along, but we're happy enough with the squad we have."
Willow finished last season as league and Combined Counties Cup winners, with promising striker Sean Brennan showing-up well towards the latter end of the season. Reliable performers such as Colin Fortune, Ronan Frawley, Gary McHugh and Peter Sherlock remain very much central to Willow's plans, while O'Sullivan said goalkeeper Paul Bannon (currently playing Gaelic football in America) has committed to re-sign when he returns from the States at the end of August.
St Peter's, meanwhile, went through a turbulent pre-season last year, but eventually cobbled-together a competitive squad that ultimately improved significantly as the season progressed and finished well clear of relegation trouble.
Derek Moran remains at the helm, after steadying a very rocky ship last year, and retains experiences players such as Adrian Carberry, Keith Hynes and Tom Silke.
While left-back John McCrossan has departed for Senior Division new-boys Melville, former Athlone Town prospects Niall Boland, Alan Coffey and Ian Dempsey have joined. Moran said he also has much hope for some of the club's younger players bidding to break into the first-team, and mentioned Clive Harris as a prime candidate to do so.
"The club is now back on a solid footing, and last season was important in terms of stabilising and staying in football. We have much more time to prepare this season, and maybe target a top-three finish, but Willow Park certainly remain the strongest squad in the division," said Moran.
Melville, promoted from the second tier (alongside last year's Premier winners Gallen Utd), are targeting a far longer stay in the top division than when they last achieved promotion.
In 2010, Melville were demoted after a single season experience in the Senior Division (following a dramatic relegation play-off penalty shoot-out defeat to Clara Town). Following that, PJ Keogh's returned as manager and his side have bounced back impressively, and are determined to do well after two seasons away.
"There's a great attitude among the players and the main aim is to preserve top division football," said Keogh.
"We added well to the squad. John McCrossan is a good left-back at this level, and Kieran McNally has arrived from Willow Park to strengthen the midfield. James Craughwell, a young midfielder, is back after studying in Cardiff, and Patrick Craughwell, Gareth Gaffey, Gary Stephens and Gary O'Connor, and a few others, give us great experience," he added.
Keogh has also added goalkeeper Aidan Browne to his panel to provide stiff competition to regular netminder Jason Merrigan.
However, the likelihood is that they will lose influential defender JP Stephens to an overseas tour of duty with the Defence Forces in the very near future.
Monksland Utd were Athlone's second best team in the league last season, and also reached a pair of cup semi-finals.
Under manager Peter Sherlock, 'the Land' achieved a fifth-placed finish last season, and they're now shaping-up for a third consecutive year of Senior Division action. Monksland have some very effective players in their ranks, including forwards Robbie Connaughton, Conor Jordan and Matt Scally, while Aaron O'Connor has also been added to the squad. Other noteworthy players include the O'Reilly brothers, Ian and Keith, Les Browne and Kevin Murray, and their objective for the season will be to build further on the fine progress made of late.