DUBLIN'S hopes of reaching their second successive All-Ireland MHC final will be severely tested when they face Clare in their last four meeting at Croke Park this Sunday afternoon (1.30).
The Dubs will encounter a Banner side with impressive recent credentials, having contested the 2010 final in addition to coming within a whisker of beating current holders Galway in their absorbing semi-final 12 months ago.
Clare, despite suffering losses to both Waterford and Tipperary earlier in the campaign have improved progressively and their tough provincial campaign is sure to stand them in good stead against a Dublin team that has not tasted championship fare since their Leinster Final win over Wexford over four weeks ago, a fact acknowledged by manager Shay Boland.
"With the exception of Down the weekend before last, Clare have had some very tight games over the summer starting with that one-point loss to Waterford in their opening game.
"They followed that up with narrow wins over Cork and Limerick before just falling to Tipperary in the Munster Final so those types of games can help bring a team forward, especially at minor level.
"That's a lot of match time to have experienced and it is preferable to be involved in competitive games rather than the training that we've been focused on since winning Leinster.
"Sometimes it can be a disadvantage to win your own province but having said that, it is the road that we would have wanted to take at the start of the year," he added.
Momentum of that kind can be pivotal in a contest between two evenly-matched sides, although it didn't appear to unduly trouble Dublin as they raced out of the blocks when overcoming Waterford at the corresponding stage last year.
That experience should help the Dubs, given how many of the panel remain from 2011 and Boland insists that the edge in training over the past month has been sufficiently sharp to ensure his side are well primed for another high-profile encounter at Croke Park.
"The preparations have gone well over the past few weeks and although the gap isn't ideal, we have had some decent internal matches to keep us on our toes.
"The lads are in decent form and there is a lot of competition for places.
"As a manager, it is becoming increasingly difficult to select the 24 that will tog out on the day but that's not a bad position to be in," added the St Oliver Plunkett's/Eoghan Ruadh clubman.
Of course, another potential selection headache for Boland and fellow selectors Eamon Clancy, Mick Connolly, Cormac Ryan and Colm Crowley surrounds the availability and well-being of Dublin's dual players given how integral they are to both sides.
Eric Lowndes, Conor McHugh and Cormac Costello have been joined of late by Ballinteer St John's Donal Gormley in featuring prominently in both codes and with games coming thick and fast in the coming weeks, Boland stresses the need to keep that quartet fresh given their obvious workload.
"The dual player issue is what it is and both Dessie (Farrell) with the footballers and myself have to manage the situation as best we can.
"Thankfully, the attitude of the players concerned is fantastic and the key job for us is to ensure the players are as fresh as possible and ready to play to their best on any given day.
"We have to concentrate on our own jobs and get our own house in order and after that it is just a question of showing up on the day and playing to your best, which hopefully is what we'll do on Sunday," added Dublin minor boss Boland.