Brian O'Driscoll started the season needing to produce something special to revive his claim to the Lions captaincy.
But a difficult six months will have left the Leinster centre drinking at the last-chance saloon when the RBS 6 Nations opens amid renewed scrutiny over his future as Ireland skipper.
O'Driscoll's steady decline in recent seasons has seen the flashes of brilliance that at one time identified him as the world's best centre dry up.
A succession of niggling injuries have contributed to his deteriorating form and he was overshadowed by midfield partner Luke Fitzgerald last autumn.
O'Driscoll remains a class act who thrives in the big-game environment, but the lightning acceleration, deft handling and vision that made him so dangerous appear to be fading.
In a significant about-turn for a player who forged his reputation through his outrageous attacking gifts, he is now more noted for his defence and feverish work at the breakdown.
Even among a weak field of candidates to lead the Lions tour to South Africa this summer O'Driscoll currently has only an outside chance of retaining the job he did in 2005.
Indeed, recent form for Leinster and Ireland suggest the 30-year-old will struggle to secure a place in the Test team.
But it takes a brave man to write off O'Driscoll and the Lions centre, who captained the last tour to New Zealand, insists he has developed into a more complete centre.
"Well, I'm not as quick as I was as a 22-year-old, though I wouldn't say I'm a snail," he said.
"Obviously my knowledge of the game is greater than it was. I've run such and such a line 70 times in games, so I have a lot of ideas about how I want to break down a defence.
"Yes, I've changed, but not necessarily for the worse. I certainly try to be a good defender, but it's not just about tackling.
"You can be a great tackler and a bad defender, so it's about marrying the two.
"If I thought my defence was poor, that would disappoint me first and foremost.
"I remember growing up, being smaller than everyone else, and just feeling a little bit fragile.
"I wouldn't want to use the word yellow but... I wasn't confident in my physical ability to take people on. Then I grew into myself and that wasn't a fear any more.
"But I still hate the concept of people thinking of me as a yellow person. That has driven me on.
"I'd be lying if I said there wasn't an element of self-doubt. You do think 'maybe it's not going to come as easy as it did'.
"But there comes the work ethic. And that's something I've definitely improved upon - preparation, training, nutrition, earlier nights."
Traditionally odd-number years are seen as Ireland's best chance of winning the 6 Nations with England and France, viewed as the toughest fixtures, visiting Dublin.
This season the tournament appears more open than ever following an appalling autumn for the European teams that saw Wales' victory over Australia as the only highlight.
Declan Kidney's first Tests in charge were mixed affairs, with victories over Canada and Argentina marred by a heavy defeat to New Zealand.
Beating the Pumas - and thus retaining a crucial second seeding for the World Cup draw - enabled Kidney to declare mission accomplished but there was little to suggest the RBS 6 Nations title is theirs for the taking.
But whatever happened on the pitch confidence emanated from the Irish camp throughout, largely thanks to the demise of Eddie O'Sullivan's reign, which had grown stale.
O'Driscoll has felt invigorated by a change in regime that could prolong his 85-cap career.
"I must admit I was bit apprehensive going down to Cork for Declan's first squad session but it rejuvenated me," he said.
"I felt as though I was going to start learning things again."