THE reason for Conal Keaney's absence from Dublin footballers' dawn training sessions this week became crystal clear last night when he trained with the county hurlers.
It wasn't his first training session with the Dublin senior hurlers but it was, significantly, his first since 2004 and his first under manager Anthony Daly. It confirmed that the Ballyboden St Enda's star has thrown his lot in with the county's small-ball players this season.
Clareman Daly, who has pursued him determinedly for the last three years, described Keaney's return as "a huge addition to our panel".
Keaney has long been recognised as one of the most talented hurlers in the capital but has concentrated his inter-county energies solely on football since 2005, so getting him to switch codes is a huge coup for Daly.
Keaney started, and scored 0-3 from play, in the footballers' championship opener against Wexford last summer but all his subsequent appearances were off the bench and his inability to break back into the footballers' starters immediately raised speculation that he might follow Shane Ryan and switch codes.
Daly confirmed that he had met him in November and the player is understood to have also spoken to football boss Pat Gilroy in the past week.
"We would have been happy had Conal decided to combine both codes because half a loaf is better than no bread," Daly said. "But he's anxious to give one of them a proper shot and you can understand that."
Keaney (below) was the star of the Dublin minor hurlers who lost an All-Ireland semi-final to Cork in 2000.
He captained the combined Dublin Colleges hurling team to a Leinster schools title the following year and made his county senior debut while still a teenager.
He received a hurling All Star nomination in 2003 and, despite concentrating his inter-county energies on football since 2005, has still played a key role for Ballyboden St Enda's hurlers who won their fourth county SHC title in a row last winter.
Daly said yesterday that Keaney's club experience should help him make a quick transition.
"It's not as if he's coming in after playing no hurling for the past six years, he's been there every year with Ballyboden so he has that advantage," Daly said.
"It must have been very hard for Conal to leave the footballers. The guy has played seven seasons with them so it's not the easiest thing in the world to turn your back on.
"He's won five Leinster medals and they were awful close to an All-Ireland final last year so it must have been an awful wrench to walk away from that.
"But from our point of view he'll be a great addition and it's a serious boost for Dublin hurling.
"I remember going to see him pre-2004 when he was still with the Dublin hurlers, in a qualifier game at Parnell Park, and even as a young fella he stood out."
Keaney's return, plus the recent addition of ex-Tipperary senior Ryan O'Dwyer, is a great fillip to the Dublin attack.
Daly is keen to get Keaney into competitive action as soon as he can, possibly in their Walsh Cup opener against Antrim or Westmeath, on January 23.
"In fairness, there will be a bit of publicity in the next couple of days," the Dublin manager added, "but he just wants to keep his head down now and get stuck into training."