THE last time the Dublin hurlers played in Croke Park, Alan McCrabbe sat in the stand politely shrugging off enquiries as to why he wasn't kitted out and taking the fight to Cork in an All-Ireland semi-final.
Tomorrow, he'll be a non-participating spectator again as Anthony Daly's team take on Kilkenny for winter silverware, but, now, the Craobh Chiaráin man has a return to blue set in his cross hairs.
"It was weird," McCrabbe told the Herald of his 2013 hiatus from the Dublin set-up. "You were in the stand and people were tapping you on the shoulder asking you why you're not out there. It's very hard to take.
"You're watching the lads and saying: 'I could have done this or I could have done that,' but fair play to the boys, they stood up last year. I don't have the Leinster medal they all do."
Unaccommodating hours in his professional life meant the 2009 All Star opted out last year. Not, he stresses, his preferred choice. More an unavoidable sabbatical.
"I never wanted to leave Dublin," McCrabbe explains. "I was working shifts the whole time, so I wasn't able to fit in training.
"I knew myself I just didn't want to try and give 80 per cent. I wanted to give 100 per cent for the panel. I told Anthony that last year and he said: 'that's your call'.
At one stage, McCrabbe thought his unfortunate sojourn might even cost him an All-Ireland medal.
"I thought, when they got the draw against Cork ... everyone was asking me: 'Who would you back?' I told everyone to back Dublin. I really thought they were going to go on and win it," he recalls.
"And I genuinely think they would have gone on to win it if the referee hadn't sent off Ryan (O'Dwyer). They were getting on top at that stage. Some things went against them that day, but the boys can only learn from that and move on and hopefully kick on again this year."
Fortunately for the 28 year-old, a clubmate, David Keane, offered him a job with his company DKD Decorators and, when Daly got down to assembling an extended panel back in October, McCrabbe was offered the chance to resurrect his inter-county career.
"Things have changed a little bit. There's a lot of young lads there. I don't know most of them."
Currently, McCrabbe is sidelined with a broken wrist, suffered in an AFL Division 5 football play-off he lined out in after his reunion with the Dublin hurlers.
"I had played with the footballers all year and we were in a promotion semi-final, so I just couldn't let the club lads down."
Two plates and a couple of screws later and McCrabbe has entered the latter stages of recovery, has had his cast removed and is back gripping hurleys, but admits: "It's slower than I thought it would be."
He is confident, however, of a return to optimum levels within "two or three weeks," dovetailing nicely with the start of Dublin's league campaign but too soon for Kilkenny tomorrow in Croke Park (5.0).
"I should be okay for the league," he says. "But Saturday should be good for the younger lads to get a run out in Croke Park this early in the year," concluded McCrabbe.