THE inter-county future of Alan McCrabbe is in serious doubt after he failed to re-emerge from the winter break for the Dublin hurlers.
McCrabbe has, as yet, not been part of the Dublin panel since they reconvened back in November, despite invitations from management to resume training with the group.
The Evening Herald understands that McCrabbe's professional commitments have been the source of his absence, but the likelihood is that unless he makes an appearance with Dublin within the next couple of weeks, Anthony Daly will count him out of his plans for 2013.
McCrabbe made his senior championship debut in 2006 alongside the likes of Johnny McCaffrey, Tomás Brady and Joey Boland but missed large chunks of the 2007 season and all of 2008 due to a disagreement with the then management.
However, he was quickly brought back into the fold by Daly after the Clareman's appointment in 2008 and, by the end of 2009, had became Dublin's first hurling All Star since 1990 (Brian McMahon) after finishing as the championship's top-scorer and producing a body of consistently strong performances, largely from midfield.
Already this year, Dublin hurlers have lost the services of Brady to the footballers while dual prospects Ciarán Kilkenny, Cormac Costello and Eric Lowndes have all chosen Jim Gavin's squad over Daly's since the turn of the year.
The potential loss of McCrabbe would compound their absences although he would by no means be regarded as a certainty for a spot in Daly's ideal starting team this season.
McCrabbe started just two competitive matches for Dublin last year, their Allianz League Division 1 draw with Tipperary in Croke Park on March 24 and their painful championship exit at the hands of Clare in Cusack Park on July 7.
He appeared a further five times as a substitute during the season, a role he has been forced to largely accept over the course of the last two years.
McCrabbe also scored 0-8 last year between league and championship, including six points from placed balls and it is his free-taking acumen, in particular, which could yet be most sorely missed by Dublin if he fails to rejoin the squad in the coming weeks.
Paul Ryan has established himself emphatically as Dublin's number one free-taker but McCrabbe has always provided a reliable alternative from both frees and '65s'.
Ryan will start tonight's Bord na Móna Walsh Cup quarter-final with UCD in Parnell Park (7.30) at corner-forward, with Conal Keaney likely to share some of the free-taking after Daly named a strong first competitive XV of the season.
He is, however, without a total of 14 players due to both college commitments and injury.
Oisín Gough, Jack Dougan, Dillon Mulligan, Kevin O'Loughlin and Seán Moran are all part of the UCD squad managed by Nicky English, and Gough and Dougan have particularly impressed for the college over recent weeks and are set to start tonight against Daly's Dubs.
DIT, meanwhile, have first call on the services of Liam Rushe, Conor McCormack and Finn McGarry while Seánie McGrath is currently part of DCU's Kehoe Cup campaign.
Of Daly's walking wounded, only Ryan O'Dwyer, Stephen Hiney, Maurice O'Brien, Martin Quilty and David Treacy remain, and all should play at least some part in the league.
O'Dwyer (shoulder), Hiney (ankle), Quilty (knee) and O'Brien (illness) have missed pre-season training but Daly hopes all four will see league action.
Quilty has been out since last summer, the last in a long line of cruciate ligament injuries to afflict the Dublin hurling panel, but the Na Fianna man is reported to be making giant strides towards full fitness.
Treacy (knee) is nearing optimum health and along with Rushe - who picked up a slight knock to his hip in action for DIT in their extra-time loss to Wexford last weekend - plans to be fit for the opening round of the Fitzgibbon Cup on January 31.
Tonight's opponents UCD can call on the class of Tipperary's Noel McGrath, Limerick's Conor Allis as well as Kilkenny quartet John Tennyson, Willie Phelan, Cillian Buckley and last year's All-Ireland final hero, Walter Walsh, when they are at full strength, although Walsh and Buckley are set to miss out tonight.