Henry Shefflin made his return to competitive action on Saturday, scoring two points after coming on as a second-half substitute for Ballyhale Shamrocks against Dunnamaggin in the Kilkenny league.
Shefflin's 20-minute cameo wasn't enough to prevent the Shamrocks going down to their first defeat of the campaign, but his availability will be a massive boost to the Cats' hopes of summer glory.
The nine-time All Star looked extremely sharp despite making his first appearance since aggravating a cruciate knee ligament injury in the All-Ireland final against Tipperary last September.
The 32-year-old has been training with Kilkenny and Ballyhale in recent weeks after getting medical clearance to begin hurling and received a loud ovation from both sets of supporters when introduced to the fray 10 minutes into the second half. Shefflin (pictured) showed much of his renowned verve when beating three players before hitting a point soon after coming on.
The second score came from a long-distance free which, given the difficulties Kilkenny had in this department in the Allianz League final defeat to Dublin, is just one of many reasons why Brian Cody will be so anxious to have him back.
"He looked very sharp and fit," said selector Brendan Mason yesterday. "He's been doing a lot of training, around five or six nights a week. More than anything, he was afraid he might lose the hurling sharpness because fitness-wise, he always looks after himself."
Mason also revealed that Michael Fennelly will have the cast removed from his broken hand on Friday and will then start training with Kilkenny, with his first game back likely to be for the Shamrocks against Johnstown on May 26.
That was the game that Shefflin had originally pencilled in for his comeback, but having been pleased with his progress, he signalled his intention to management during the week to tog out for Saturday night's game.
"I knew when he said he'd tog out that he'd want to come on," said Mason. "He wasn't going to tog and watch for an hour, especially when we were losing. That's the sort of guy he is. Doing the training with Kilkenny, us and probably a bit on his own as well, he was confident that the knee would stand up.
"Having him back on the pitch now is great news for everyone."