FORMER Dublin All Star Alan McCrabbe can't wait to resume hurling action and hopes to make his return in a challenge match against Offaly next weekend.
McCrabbe, 28, missed last year's thrilling run to a long-awaited Leinster championship win by the Dubs, and he wants to make up for lost time.
A broken hand sustained in a football game for his club Craobh Chiarain kept him out of the Walsh Cup campaign, but if he's not given the all-clear for the Offaly match, he is virtually certain of being fully fit for Dublin's opening NHL Division 1A match away to Galway on February 16.
McCrabbe, who won his All Star in 2009, opted out of the Dublin squad last year due to work and family commitments, but his circumstances have changed, and he's fully engaged for 2014.
"I didn't want to stand out giving 70pc or 80pc instead of 100pc like the rest of the lads. I wouldn't feel I was giving enough to the team if I was only doing that. So I took the decision myself just to stand out until I was right to go back," he explained. "Circumstances have changed. I'm after getting a new job and I'm working on an 8am to 4pm shift so it gives me time to get out to training and do everything else with the lads and put the effort in."
Last year was a big year of achievement for the hurlers, and McCrabbe admits he missed the involvement as the Dubs won the Leinster title for the first time in 52 years. He knows what it's like to be on a breakthrough team, as the experienced midfielder-cum-forward played in the NHL-winning team under Anthony Daly in 2011.
"It was very hard watching last year and probably thinking to myself that I could have done a little thing here or there for the team," he said. "Obviously I'm going to put the head down and try to get back into the starting 15, or back into the panel anyway, and see how things go from there.
"There's unbelievable talent there now. I came back this year and there's young lads in the team that I've never even seen before. It's good to see. They're big lads and they're all fighting for positions in the team.
The question arises as to how a year out of inter-county action could affect McCrabbe's prospects.
"I'm carrying a broken hand, but it'll only be another week or two before I'm ready. I'm back striking balls, so it's just about getting back into contact training now," he said. "Fitness-wise, I'm flying. I'm back up fitness-wise the same as the rest of the lads.
"It's basically just about getting the hurl back in the hand and getting the touch back up to pace again. Playing with the club all year, it is a step back up to the pace of county level."
McCrabbe was at Croke Park to see the Dubs lose the Walsh Cup final to Kilkenny, but he reckons they will be highly competitive this year.
"I definitely think there's an All-Ireland in this team. They weren't far off last year."