STEPHEN HINEY has taken the first major step on the road to an inter-county comeback next year after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery last weekend.
The stricken Dublin skipper has been a frustrated spectator for much of what's transpired to be a history-making season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament during an Allianz League match away to Wexford last March.
But following an operation performed by top knee surgeon Ray Moran at the Santry Clinic, Hiney has now set his sights on making a complete recovery and a return to the Dublin squad in 2012.
"He had the operation last Saturday, and everything went well," revealed county board chairman Andy Kettle. "He is on crutches and cannot put his leg to the ground at the moment."
However, once the swelling subsides, Hiney will start focussing on a lengthy period of rehabilitation required to make it back onto the hurling field.
Even though sidelined, Hiney has remained an important figure in Anthony Daly's set-up and lifted the NHL Division One trophy with Johnny McCaffrey - his replacement as captain - when Dublin defeated Kilkenny at Croke Park in early May.
Meanwhile, Kettle is predicting a sizeable travelling support when Dublin travel to Thurles for Sunday's All-Ireland SHC quarter-final against Limerick.
Initial ticket sales among Dublin clubs have been reported as slow, but the county board chief pointed to various buses booked by the Friends of Dublin Hurling and various clubs before adding: "We would expect that maybe eight to ten thousand Dubs will be down there, going on the ones that travelled already to Tullamore (for their Leinster semi-final against Galway)." Kettle is hopeful that latter-day hurling converts won't desert the team after their heavy provincial final defeat to Kilkenny. "This crowd of lads deserve the support that they get. I don't think there will be any kick-back (from the Kilkenny game)."
ALL-IRELAND winning skipper Graham Canty faces a battle to retain his place for Saturday's SFC qualifier against Down at Croke Park. Canty played no league football because of injury this spring and endured a difficult afternoon in the Munster final against Kerry, prompting speculation that he could yet lose out in a likely defensive reshuffle for a repeat of last year's All-Ireland final. Veteran impact sub Nicholas Murphy is definitely ruled out with a hamstring injury.
OWEN MULLIGAN ended his brief self-imposed Tyrone exile when he returned to county training last night, ten days after his last involvement with Mickey Harte's squad when he came off the bench against Longford.
PAUL GALVIN will be available for Kerry's All-Ireland SFC quarter-final after recovering from his latest hamstring injury. Galvin came through an internal practice match last weekend, while injury worries surrounding Colm Cooper and Declan O'Sullivan have also lifted.