LAST Thursday, far from the madding crowd, Bernard Brogan took a small yet significant step in his rehabilitation as a Dublin footballer.
He kicked a football.
Big deal? Well, big enough, for a player who hadn't executed this seemingly routine task even once since last September.
That was the day Brogan plundered 2-3, all bar one point from play, in a Man of the Match performance that simultaneously propelled Dublin into All-Ireland heaven and Mayo into Sam Maguire hell.
This Saturday evening, those same two counties resume Croke Park hostilities and Brogan hasn't entirely ruled out the possibility of a bench role, although it would seem unlikely given that he has only just renewed acquaintances with his most trusted spherical friend.
He has been sidelined by the same groin injury that bedevilled his older brother Alan for over a year: osteitis pubis. He is now on the cusp of a comeback after six months of complete football inactivity, stretching from September 22 (the date of the All-Ireland final) to March 20 (his first kicking exercise).
Do the maths. That's 179 days removed from a pursuit that comes so naturally – kicking a ball over the black spot. "I'm mad to get back, I'm dying to get back out there," he said, with a mix of relish and impatience.
The 2010 Footballer of the Year was speaking in the plush surrounds of Carton House, where Dublin GAA backers AIG announced details of a new sponsorship of the Golfing Union of Ireland and the Irish Ladies Golf Union.
Brogan, himself an AIG ambassador, added: "Last Thursday was the first time I kicked a ball since the All-Ireland, in a match or not. It's been a long break and it does take time, no matter how the body feels."
So far, touch wood, he has avoided the frustrating setbacks that derailed his big brother's comeback plans last season.
"I had small surgery before Christmas in London – went to a good guy over there, similar to what Alan had. It's been going well. He gave it the all-clear in January. I have given it an extra four weeks of rehab and rest, so I'm hoping I'll have no setbacks," he said.
"Training has been going really well; I've been back on the pitch two weeks, started kicking ball last week, no major reaction."
He was due to go through a more rigorous examination at Dublin training last night, "to see where exactly I am at. I would hope to come back and play a league game but that depends on (last night). I'd love to get a game in. It's all about game time for me. If we win one of the games (against Mayo, or Tyrone on Sunday week), we could get into the play-offs."
The three-time All Star, who turns 30 early next month, was non-committal on his chances of making the match-day squad this weekend.
"I am going to be put through a full fitness test. Fingers crossed. I haven't played any football yet. It might be a case of playing some football with the club this weekend and playing with Dublin next weekend," he said.
There are valid reasons why Dublin's management – and the player himself – haven't rushed their marquee finisher back ahead of schedule. The first pertains to personal experience. Through the first few months of 2013, Brogan couldn't stop scoring, but he also never stopped playing. In retrospect, he believes he pushed himself too far and this contributed both to the injury (which first flared up 12 months ago) and his mid-Championship form dip.
"Last year, I played all the O'Byrne Cup, first two league games, two games with Leinster and then the next two league games until my groin broke down after the Mayo (league) game.
"I was moving really well, I was happy, that's why I wanted to play each week," he said. "So I was telling the management, 'I'm feeling good, I'm grand and I want to play'.
"I was probably a bit naive, you have to pick and choose your battles – that's what I was saying at the end of the year."
The other reason for treading cautiously on the comeback trail?
"Looking at Alan last year, I was a bit worried about it," he said.
"His (injury) dragged on for eight months since the operation, so I was very wary about it. I wanted to make sure it was right. He came back a little early and pushed on. I didn't want to make the same mistake... it's probably a 12-week recovery, so I have given it 16 or 17 weeks to make sure every box is ticked."
A more positive augury was the sight of his sibling shooting the lights out, even as Dublin were defeated in their last league outing in Derry.
"He's flying," Bernard said.
"Shows the bit of hunger he has after missing out on the whole year last year. He has family commitments and work commitments, but, at the end of the day, he's a Dublin fan and he wants to get out there to play football.
"It's great to see him out there, looking like he's 21 again. He never ages, he never gets tired and he's always been the go-to man for Dublin. Last year was just a gap for him; hopefully, this year he can kick on."
As for himself, the Plunkett's predator is "feeling really good" this week, but anxious to get back on the pitch.
"There is club football coming up that I want to be fresh for as well. I want to be ready to go because we have a very big challenge in that against (Kilmacud) Crokes. There is a lot coming up in the next month that I want to be right for."
So long as he's right for summer, Dublin fans will rest easy...