Clare and Dublin will come face-to-face for the second time in three years when they contest the All-Ireland MHC semi-final at Croke Park tomorrow.
The Banner deservedly came out on top in their last four showdown back in 2010 far more comfortably than the 0-20 to 2-13 scoreline suggests.
The Dubs prevailed against Munster opposition at the corresponding stage last year when they overwhelmed Waterford but manager Shay Boland expects a far tougher assignment against a battle-hardened Clare side.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Training has been sufficiently intense over the past five weeks to keep the Dubs ticking over and that competitiveness allied to the confidence derived from retaining their provincial crown ensures that complacency won’t be an issue within Boland’s panel.
“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.
“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,” said the St Oliver Plunkett’s/Eoghan Ruadh clubman.
The mutual admiration extends to Eamon Fennessy’s respect for the challenge that last year’s All-Ireland finalists will present, given how well he feels they have recovered since their opening round provincial loss to Wexford.
The Croke Park factor is also something Fennessy is rightly concerned with, given that a large bulk of Dublin’s panel will be featuring in their fifth high-profile game at headquarters over the past 12 months, a definite advantage in the eyes of the Sixmilebridge clubman.
“To be honest, I don’t think Dublin have got the credit they deserve for the way they beat Kilkenny in the Leinster semi-final and they showed their progression when beating Wexford in the final after their earlier loss.
“Their defence has been very solid and hasn’t conceded a goal from open play in four games so they are well organised.
“It is essentially a home game for Dublin in that they don’t have the same logistical issues as we would have in terms of travelling and the like.
“Having said that, we have got over the disappointment of losing to Tipperary in the Munster final. Although our panel is relatively inexperienced in contrast to Dublin, we’re just focusing on the game ahead and playing to the best of our ability.”
Dublin’s path to the semi-final has been unquestionably the smoother but their progression from game-to-game and ability to finish strongly make them a dangerous opponent for Clare.
Whether they can maintain that rate of development is open to question.
However, their advantage in terms of experience and familiarity with Croke Park could well be pivotal, with Dublin’s greater depth the deciding factor in a low-scoring encounter.
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