DUBLIN will contest their third semi-final in four years when they come face-to-face with Munster champions, Cork, in the U21 All-Ireland Football Championship semi-final in Portlaoise this Saturday (2.0) in O'Moore Park, Portlaoise.
Both sides impressed in their respective provincial campaigns but despite looking sharp in successive wins over Wexford, Laois, Westmeath and Louth, manager Jim Gavin is acutely aware that Saturday's clash will represent by far Dublin's toughest challenge to date.
"I'm not sure it's especially difficult that it's Cork we're facing, as Cavan or Roscommon would have been equally tough fixtures as you always meet quality opposition at this stage of the competition. Having said that, Cork once again look very strong this year and I thought they looked very impressive against Clare to win by 15 points and they then gave a big performance against Kerry last Wednesday.
"It is always a tough ask to go to Tralee and secure a result against Kerry but that's what they did in beating a good Kerry side."
Certainly, Cork's 2-12 to 1-14 extra-time win reflected well on their battling qualities, with Brian Hurley giving an exceptional performance from corner-forward while Dan Mac Eoin's contribution off the bench highlighted their strength in depth, a crucial aspect at this level.
Cork's pedigree at U21 is unsurpassed with 11 national titles secured since the competition's inauguration back in 1964, although Gavin is dubious as to its relevance come Saturday's meeting.
"To be honest, I think what is more relevant is how they've dominated Munster in the last 10 years with six provincial titles won, but their overall record speaks volumes for the quality of player that they produce and the focus that the Cork County Board place on this championship," said the 1995 All-Ireland SFC winner.
Dublin's resurgence at the U21 grade is intrinsically linked with Gavin, who was involved alongside Declan Darcy when Dublin landed their first national title in 2003 and also when the Dubs won their last crown two years ago against Donegal. Whether a third All-Ireland can be achieved this year will largely depend on how Dublin cope with a physically powerful Cork outfit, but Gavin is optimistic given the quality of character that his panel possess.
"It was obviously nice to win a provincial title but it was noticeable from that point that the lads were willing to knuckle down and focus on the task ahead.
"They are collectively a very ambitious and well-rounded group as well as being talented footballers and they are well aware of the tough task ahead of them.
"It's very definitely a steep gradient the further you progress in this championship but the intensity in our preparations has been very positive with the games in training very competitive, so from that perspective things have gone very well," said Gavin.
It is unlikely that Gavin will make too many changes from their Leinster Final win over Louth, although panellists Conor Walsh, Fionn Carney and Ben Quinn are all struggling to be available for selection.
Despite these concerns, Dublin will travel to Portlaoise with confidence with Gavin hoping that Dublin's loyal support will back his side.
"It's no secret how much I enjoy the nature of this championship. The players involved are the future stars and the type of football played is always pleasing on the eye. It's a very attractive brand which generally attracts plenty of drama and I would love to see a big Dublin contingent down to support the team. It definitely stands to them," concluded Gavin.