DUBLIN are the market leaders, Cork football captain Michael Shields agrees, but he insists the All-Ireland champions can be caught as his side prepare to take on the Dubs in Croke Park on Saturday night.
Both sides have enjoyed the perfect start to the league season with two wins from two outings, but they put their 100pc records on the line in HQ this weekend, with Shields adamant Jim Gavin's men are beatable.
"I think they've definitely set standards but I don't think they've reached heights that can't be reached by anyone else out there," Shields said, at the launch of the Sam to Summit fundraising event in aid of the Alan Kerins Projects.
"I think hard work, good strength and conditioning, good tactics and if you have a good football team you're going to be there or thereabouts. Like, you saw Mayo, they pushed Dublin right to the pin of their collar last year. Dublin responded so they've definitely raised the bar but in my opinion it's not too far off any of the other teams out there."
Dublin edged Cork on the way to last year's All-Ireland title and since then, the Rebels have undergone major surgery, losing a host of established players such as Graham Canty, Noel O'Leary and Paudie Kissane, while Brian Cuthbert has replaced Conor Counihan as manager.
And 27-year-old Shields admits there is extra pressure on him to lead by example in their absence.
"There are young lads who are going to come in who look up to you and look up to certain members of the panel, and we're the lads who have to lead the way now," said the St Finbarr's man, who is studying strategic management in DIT.
"I suppose when I came on board there was Graham Canty, Noel O'Leary, Paudie Kissane, Alan Quirke, all these guys who were really good fellas with their heads well and truly screwed on.
"You try to model yourself on them and they led the way for us so it's up to our crew who won the All-Ireland in 2007 with the U-21s, a lot of us have responsibility now to be leaders in any way we can."
Shields also misses Saturday's game as he continues to recover from a knee injury that forced him to miss DIT's Sigerson Cup campaign but, having recently looked back at a DVD of last year's All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to the Dubs, he believes there's plenty the Rebels can take from last year's clash.
"If you look at some of the areas that we were beaten, probably in around the midfield area they had a lot of runners coming through and they got a few goal-scoring opportunities.
"But to be honest, I've watched the game in recent times and it's not all that bad. We created a lot of chances that night. We caused them problems in certain areas. It's just probably fine-tuning a lot of things and working on other things this year. But I don't think we'll be far off. That's my personal opinion."
One of the features of that game was the number of high, dropping balls Cork landed on Ciaran Sheehan's head at full-forward. That's not an option this weekend after Sheehan's decision to sign for AFL outfit Carlton – the same team Shields signed briefly with in 2008. And while he expects Sheehan to flourish Down Under, all eyes are on continuing their good form on Saturday night.
"The most important thing for us on Saturday is to have a good performance," he said. "That's something we've been working on all through the league so far, try getting a good start and trying to finish out games, maintaining it through 70 minutes.
"That's the most important thing. We obviously want to win but we won't go into that too much, we'll concentrate on going hard for 70 minutes and if we can all put in a performance, and if everyone who comes on does the same, that's key.
"They're the All-Ireland champions up in Croke Park and are going quite well after winning two games, it's a good test for us. We'll see where we're at."