Magners League leaders Munster have been handed a huge boost as they look to secure a third Celtic crown.
The 2003 and 2009 Magners League Champions could have talismanic skipper Paul O’Connell back in their ranks for the meeting with Cardiff Blues in Limerick on Saturday, 4 December.
The Ireland second row hasn’t played since his country’s RBS 6 Nations defeat to Scotland on 20 March, while his last Magners League appearance came way back on 31 October, 2009.
The 31-year-old’s lengthy absence was initially expected to be far shorter but difficulties in diagnosing his groin problem have led to an extended spell on the sidelines.
But that’s all set to change on Friday night when O’Connell is expected to line up for Young Munster in their All-Ireland League clash with Shannon at Thomond Park.
"We're delighted with the progress he's making," said Munster team manager Shaun Payne.
"Obviously, Paulie is delighted. There is nothing worse for him than having to sit on the sidelines and watch. It's been a very frustrating time for him since last year's RBS 6 Nations. But now he's bursting to get back into it.
"He's had no more set-backs over the last couple of months and his return is a good four weeks ahead of schedule.
"This weekend will be another step and if he progresses past that, then Cardiff will be the next step."
While Ireland have struggled without the Lions captain, losing six of the seven Tests for which O’Connell has been unavailable, Munster have fared far better.
Although they missed out on glory last season, Tony McGahan’s men have suffered just the one defeat in the Magners League so far this term and currently sit seven points clear of the second-placed Scarlets ahead of Friday’s trip to the Dragons.
But despite their success without him, Munster will be delighted to have O’Connell back in their ranks as the race for the Play-Offs really begins to take shape.