ANTRIM hurler Eddie McCloskey expects to face a Dublin team "firing on all cylinders" when they clash in Casement Park this Sunday.
The Saffrons started their NHL Division 1B campaign with a narrow defeat in Limerick whereas Dublin found the going surprisingly tough before squeezing past Offaly in Parnell Park.
Yet Antrim are still 5/1 rank outsiders when the 2011 Allianz League champions come to Belfast.
"I think every game we play in the National League is a big challenge," argued McCloskey, in the capital to receive his AIB club hurler of the year for Ulster on foot of his exploits with Loughgiel.
"Dublin are going to bring something to the table that maybe the other teams in the league won't. Obviously they won the National League two years ago and were then relegated. They're going to be coming up to Casement firing on all cylinders, so we're going to have to be right physically and mentally for the oncoming battle."
It's less than three years since Antrim stunned Dublin in a Croke Park qualifier, but their graphs are seen to have veered dramatically apart since then – notwithstanding Dublin's deflating 2012.
As for why, McCloskey speculated: "Probably the financial backing of Dublin and obviously their geographical positioning in Ireland helps them compared to us. The amount of work they've done on the team shows. Last year for us was probably a step back. The year before, with Dinny (Cahill) in, we did alright, not as well as we probably hoped to do. Dublin stepped back last year and probably are going to try to get promoted and win the league and the All-Ireland this year."
McCloskey returned to the county fold for the Limerick game, barely a week after Loughgiel saw their dreams of an All-Ireland two-in-a-row dashed at the semi-final stage (after a replay).
He has already been impressed by the motivation and planning of new Antrim manager Kevin Ryan – and is hoping this heralds a more cohesive campaign than 2012, although he's not blaming former boss Jerry Wallace for all the chaos entailed.
"It was chaotic," McCloskey admitted, quickly adding: "Jerry's taken a lot of blame for a lot of the things, but I think a lot of the blame can be put towards the panel of players. There were a lot of boys maybe not putting in the effort that they should have done.
"Jerry was there a couple of years earlier when we got to the quarter-final of the All-Ireland. You know, a lot of that was attributed to him, so if we had put a bit more work in, a bit more effort by players – me included – things could have been different. But obviously it was chaotic. There were nights you were turning up to training and only 16 players there. You know, Jerry would have a session plan and he couldn't do it ... from one night to the next we didn't know what to expect."