By Gabriel Tan
Just 12 months earlier, there was a similar sense of excitement and expectation when the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) announced the 28-man squad for LIONSXII's maiden campaign in Malaysian football.
V. Sundramoorthy's impressed all and sundry en route to a runners-up finish in the league, before reaching the semi-finals of the Malaysia Cup, where they were agonisingly eliminated by ATM on penalties.
But as the likes of Shahdan Sulaiman, Sufian Anuar and Irwan Shah basked in the limelight and established themselves as the newest household names in the country, Gabriel Quak, who had been handed the number seven jersey at the inaugural unveiling, could only watch on in envy and frustration as National Service (NS) commitments meant he failed to play even once for the side.
Having been named as one of Singapore's rising stars after an impressive showing at the 2011 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, the 22-year-old admits it was difficult not to feel sorry for himself as he watched his counterparts thrill the Jalan Besar Stadium faithful week after week.
"I wasn't just disappointed that I didn't play for the team," he told ESPNSTAR.com. "In fact, I think I managed to train only twice throughout the whole year.
"Around the same time last year, there was also the unveiling and all the hype accompanying our debut season. When I realised I couldn't play at all, it was really devastating.
"I was in camp all the time following the news and all. Every time I would be watching their games and just wishing I was part of it."
Since then, Quak has completed his NS stint and was once again revealed as the LIONSXII's number seven for the coming campaign.
And no obstacles in his path this time, he has vowed to make the most of his second opportunity and put the disappointment of 2012 behind him.
"Obviously I'm looking forward because I was with the team last year as well but couldn't play because of NS issues," he added.
"Now that everything is cleared, I'm really looking forward and solely focusing on this.
"Now that this year has come I just want to give my best and hope to be playing and winning."
Of the 29 men named in this year's LIONSXII squad, only 12 turned out for the side last year and Sundramoorthy has already confirmed his main focus in the coming season will be to nurture his young players ahead of the year-end SEA Games.
Understandably, the skillful winger was not keen on comparing the current crop with their predecessors, although he believes the new emphasis on youth development should not stop them from targeting success.
"People may compare last year's team with this year's," Quak said. "But I think they're totally different.
"You cannot take away the good things the team did last year - they had to come with many factors being a new team.
"No one really knew what to expect and they really did well to finish second in the league. Although we have a younger team this year, I really hope we can achieve what they did last year or even do better.
"Many say we now have a developmental squad and that can be the aim, but once the season starts you start to aim higher if you achieve good results. Like last year, the aim was to finish in the top five but we ended up challenging for the title."
With only Shahril Ishak, Baihakki Khaizan, Isa Halim, Fazrul Nawaz and Irwan Shah over the age of 23, many believe a large portion of the Singapore squad for the 2013 SEA Games will come from the LIONSXII.
Quak is no stranger to the biennial meet, having played at the 2009 and 2011 editions, and believes playing in front of hostile crowds in the Super League this season will stand him and his counterparts in good stead for the tournament, just like it did for the senior side in their recent 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup triumph.
"For me, this year will be the last I'm eligible [for the Games] as I turn 23," the ex-Courts Young Lions star revealed. "I think the squad for this year's SEA Games is looking very good.
"You can see with Singapore's Suzuki Cup victory, most of the players agreed the experience in the Malaysia Cup helped them.
"The crowd always plays a part at the SEA Games and playing in Malaysia can help us. Even a few days back in Pahang, we were just playing a friendly but the atmosphere was really good.
"It can help us manage ourselves and learn to react to a new environment. Footballers all want to play in front of big crowds."
Sundramoorthy's side get their campaign underway on Wednesday when they take on ATM, who beat Kelantan at the weekend to win the Charity Shield. And after patiently biding his time for 12 months, Quak could just finally make his LIONSXII debut at the Tuanku Abdul Rahman Stadium.