DUBLIN hurlers have received a major pre-championship boost with the return of cruciate victim Conal Keaney to full competitive action.
The Ballyboden St Enda's star made his long-awaited return by coming through a full championship match for his club on Wednesday night and even scored a point from play.
It was Keaney's first full game since rupturing both his cruciate and lateral knee ligaments in a motorcycle accident on the eve of last year's All-Ireland quarter-final against Limerick.
Also in action in the same game was his club and Dublin team-mate Stephen Hiney, who was lining out in only his third match since recovering from his own cruciate injury.
Ballyboden suffered a shock 0-16 to 2-6 loss to Lucan Sarsfields in the group stages, but the duo's good performances on a particularly wet night have fuelled speculation that both men will make their inter-county comebacks in a challenge game against Waterford on Monday.
Their return to competitive hurling definitely increases their chances of being up to speed in time for Dublin's Leinster SHC opener against Laois or Carlow on June 2.
Meanwhile, Clare forward Conor McGrath will be available to the Banner for their Munster SHC opener against Waterford on June 17.
The Cratloe star was the subject of an injury scare last week when he was hospitalised briefly with suspected kidney damage after a club game, but, after observation, he has been given the all-clear and was back running this week.
McGrath will still not be ready in time for this weekend when Clare take on Tipperary on Sunday (6.45) in what is expected to be a full-blooded challenge match to celebrate new pitches at Clonlara.
The Banner may also be without James and Cathal McInerney and Caimin Morey due to injuries, but Tipperary are expected to have Patrick 'Bonner' Maher and Seamus Callanan back from their lengthy lay-offs.
Elsewhere, Carlow's objection to the Leinster Council decision to rearrange their minor hurling championship draw has succeeded in getting them home advantage for tomorrow's clash with Dublin.
Having beaten Kildare and Westmeath, Carlow expected to play Laois in the next round -- according to the original fixtures -- so they were surprised earlier this week to be drawn to play Dublin away.
However, it transpired that Leinster had reshuffled the fixtures to avoid 'repeats' of earlier round pairings and this is not unprecedented.
But Carlow argued that the provincial organisers had jumped the gun and should not have adjusted the draw until such repeats actually transpired.
A meeting of the Leinster CCC on Wednesday night adjusted the fixture and the compromise is that Carlow are now hosting Dublin at Dr Cullen Park tomorrow afternoon (3.0).
The original fixture had them travelling to Parnell Park tomorrow night.