NEW year, new political landscape. The forthcoming General Election will be unlike any we've seen before, for one very simple reason.
Every other contest was a race between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to see who would lead the next government.
This time the primary battle is between FG and Labour -- two parties who have promised to share power but will still fight each other hammer and tongs to secure the plum jobs around the Cabinet table.
Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore have made an unwritten pact. The leader who wins the most seats will automatically become Taoiseach, while the other will be given some key ministerial positions such as Finance to make the new government look like a genuine partnership.
Between now and then, it's every man for himself.
When you look at the main contenders for office, the most amazing thing is how many of them are veterans from John Bruton's Rainbow government of the mid-90s.
As well as Kenny and Gilmore themselves, Michael Noonan, Pat Rabbitte and Ruairi Quinn were all ministers back then and have stuck around hoping for one last bite at the cherry. Poor old Ivan Yates must be reflecting that if only he'd done the same, instead of starting Celtic Bookmakers, he'd be gearing up now to become Taoiseach himself.
This presents a serious problem for FG and Labour, one they'd be well advised to start thinking about now. The new government may not be short of experience, but it is shaping up to be desperately short of fresh faces. If it doesn't inject some new blood, it could soon look as tired and clapped-out as Fianna Fail do today.
Over the last few years, FG have done a much better job of electing young TDs and giving them prominent roles within the party. The embarrassing thing for Enda Kenny is that most of them tried to get rid of him during Richard Bruton's failed leadership heave last June. Brian Hayes, Simon Coveney and (especially) Leo Varadkar are all potential stars of the future -- but the question mark over their loyalty means they may not get the big Cabinet jobs their talents deserve.
Eamon Gilmore has a completely different problem. Although his leadership is fully secure, his ageing front bench means he has precious few options when it comes to divvying out the ministerial Mercs.
After the election, new Labour TDs such as Aodhan O Riordain and Ivana Bacik should become Dail stars very quickly -- but giving them portfolios on their very first day would be a gamble that could easily backfire.
Whatever happens, it is clear a big generational shift in Irish politics cannot be postponed for much longer. When Brian Cowen was asked to comment on a tweet by Simon Coveney during the recent Garglegate fiasco, it became painfully obvious the Taoiseach didn't know what Twitter was.
The future belongs to politicians who are in touch with young people's concerns, are fully comfortable with modern technology and not hidebound by the traditions of the past. Even FF are starting to realise this, with thirtysomethings such as Dara Calleary hinting that someone of his vintage (i.e. himself) should take over from Cowen after the party's inevitable election drubbing.
As long as he can avoid self-destructing over the next few weeks, Enda Kenny will finally reap the rewards for all his hard work since taking over the FG leadership in 2002.
Even so, it is hard to see him staying there for more than a couple of years -- particularly as a hungry new generation of Young Turks are already snapping at his heels.
When John F Kennedy was elected US president, he famously declared, "The torch has passed to a new generation." Kenny and Gilmore must recognise that there is a hunger for something similar to happen here -- and if they can't be the change themselves, they have a duty to promote people who can