DUBLIN face an uphill battle in qualifying for their third successive provincial final when they face Kilkenny in their Leinster MHC semi-final at Parnell Park this Saturday afternoon (3.0).
The provincial holders impressed during their facile opening-round win over Offaly but their reward for that win in Tullamore seven weeks ago is a truer test of their credentials as they face perennial favourites Kilkenny in a repeat of last year's semi-final.
The Dubs may have won that tie in Portlaoise 12 months ago with five points to spare but Dublin manager Pat Fanning anticipates a much tighter affair at the weekend.
"We are under no illusions as to the task awaiting us," he said. "I would make us very much the underdog although I wouldn't expect there to be too much between the teams at the end, whether it is ourselves or Kilkenny that progress to the final.
"Kilkenny have been playing quite a number of high-quality challenge games in recent weeks and they have had some very encouraging results and displays and I think they have improved a fair bit since they lost in the second round back in early May," he said.
With Kilkenny's confidence having being buoyed by their recent travels on the challenge circuit, the same could hardly be said of Dublin, who have mixed some encouraging displays with rather mediocre fare throughout the spring and early summer.
Admittedly, the Dubs were understrength when losing to Cork by 20 points in Parnell Park last Sunday week but a vast improvement, irrespective of personnel involved, will be required to beat a Kilkenny side that hammered Kildare to book their last-four spot.
Kilkenny's 3-7 to 1-10 reverse to Wexford in the second round was not the major surprise that many observers painted it to be, given the quality of Wexford's panel this year, and Fanning believes that the Cats were unfortunate not to come through that challenge.
"I've watched the recording of their loss to Wexford and I thought they were quite unlucky on the day. A couple of things went against them that you couldn't necessarily cater for and to be honest I think they are a more dangerous opponent than Wexford, if I was to assess the pair of counties.
"I saw Kilkenny against a talented Waterford outfit last Monday in a challenge game and they looked very bright. They have a lot of hard work done and they'll be determined to get another crack at Wexford, assuming they come through against Laois," said the Na Fianna clubman.
Fanning's cause will not have been helped by the injury suffered by Eoghan Ó Conghaile, with the Lucan Sarsfields player missing out through knee ligament trouble.
Goalkeeper Tadhg Murphy and highly promising dual player Eoghan O'Donnell are also absent for Saturday. But, despite these concerns and that less-than-convincing display against Cork nine days ago, Fanning remains upbeat ahead of Saturday's mouth-watering encounter.
"It is a shame that we are missing three important lads from the panel but, to be honest, that can be expected at this time of year.
"Eoghan O'Donnell is a huge loss in many ways, given his experience from last year and the leadership qualities that he possesses. But other lads have to step up to the plate and assume those roles, which they have done lately.
"Also, we are happy with the return of Chris Bennett and Shane Barrett after injury while Cian Boland has been taking part in training the past week and may be part of our plans, having missed all of the year so far.
"There is a good spirit in the panel and the lads have bounced back very well from that loss to Cork.
"We had a good, constructive chat in training, had some very sharp training sessions and hopefully we can take that kind of form and attitude into Saturday's match," he concluded.