Tyrone's bid to avoid a third successive season in Division Two of the Allianz Football League has taken a blow with the news that Sean Cavanagh is likely to miss the first two rounds of the new campaign.
Cavanagh is making good progress in his battle to regain fitness after suffering a detached tendon in his left shoulder last September.
However, manager Mickey Harte has admitted that the versatile midfielder is unlikely to be back in competitive mode until March.
"I'd say the league will be a few games on before we actually see him taking the field again," said Harte.
"He's progressing well in that he seems to be well over the injury, and he's doing plenty of individual work at the moment so we'll see how the month of January goes, and how he is then."
Tyrone face Kildare and Derry in their first two games before taking on Louth, Westmeath, Galway, Meath and Monaghan.
They've been hit by a raft of retirements from their three-time All-Ireland winning team which has seen Brian Dooher, Enda McGinley, Philip Jordan, Brian McGuigan and Ciaran Gourley all step down.
With Harte now looking to get the right blend of old and new player together Cavanagh's leadership is expected to be particularly vital this season.
Harte has already gone for a very young-looking squad for the Power NI McKenna Cup, which includes Ronan O'Neil and Conor Clarke of Tyrone's 2010 All-Ireland winning minors and Tyrone open their campaign against Queens University at Healy Park, Omagh, on Sunday week.
And one of those young guns, Peter Harte, is poised to cement his reputation as Tyrone's most exciting stars of the future.
He is expected to be in the Red Hands line-up right from the very start of the season having pledged his loyalty to Mickey Harte's troops rather than turn out for St Mary's University College in the McKenna Cup series.
This year the 20-year-old Harte bedded down comfortably in the Tyrone attack and with so many of the old guard hanging up their county boots, the Errigal Ciaran clubman is expected to be handed greater responsibility up front.
Yet while he has already gained a reputation as a consistent marksman from play and frees, it's Harte's versatility that offers Tyrone a significant bonus.
His tracking back, work-rate and selfless distribution are assets which are expected to come much more into focus in 2012, starting in the McKenna Cup.
"Peter has a great temperament and is always willing to put the team first," said a Tyrone spokesman.
"He uses the ball well and has matured rapidly.
"It's great to have someone like him on board from the outset as obviously our forward line will take on something of a new look in 2012."
After their McKenna Cup opener against Queen's, they then they take on Antrim at Casement Park on the following Sunday.
They will complete their Group A itinerary by meeting Fermanagh at Healy Park on January 18 - a match made all the more significant in that Mickey Harte and Peter Canavan will go head-to-head on the touchline for the first time.