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Armagh's artillery will prove too hot to handle for Dublin's dodgy defence

AT the outset of Dublin's press conference at their training facility in DCU yesterday morning, Pat Gilroy apologised for the late timing of the event, caused by the week-on-week schedule of qualifiers.

"Unfortunately, that's probably going to be the way for the next couple of weeks," he added, before launching into his team announcement.

A throwaway remark? A slip of the tongue? Or maybe, per chance, a bold declaration of confidence from the Dublin manager?

You see, there is a strong possibility that Gilroy won't be organising press conferences for the next couple of weeks. This evening they face the considerable threat of an Armagh team that has no intention of exiting the All-Ireland race stage left, just because they've drawn the Dubs.

Lose, and the Blues are gone. Lose badly, and Gilroy's two-year tenure will come under critical scrutiny from outside and maybe even from within the corridors of Parnell Park -- notwithstanding that he has another year left on his current term.

The question is, though, will Dublin lose? We'll answer a slightly different question first. If Dublin repeat the mistakes and/or malaise that afflicted their displays against Wexford and Meath last month -- or even, to a lesser extent, against Tipperary last weekend -- then almost certainly they will lose.

So there's the challenge, in a nutshell, for this Dublin team. They must raise their game to a higher level, one they haven't occupied (bar for a few sporadic bursts) in three matches to date this summer.

They must cut out the propensity for harum scarum defending in the full-back line because any repeat is liable to be punished by a succession of white flags, or even green, brought on by the wily old sorcerer Steven McDonnell and his young apprentice from Crossmaglen, Jamie Clarke.

They must hope that the Brogan boys, Bernard and Alan, bring their 'A' game to Croke Park because if these gifted siblings find themselves suffocated by Andy Mallon, Ciaran McKeever and various other elements of the Armagh blanket ... well, in that scenario, it's hard to see where sufficient Dublin scores will come from.

Maybe Eoghan O'Gara will add some goal- scoring gloss to his explosive undercoat. Or maybe Kevin McManamon will belatedly catch fire on this, his third SFC start.

But these are all major 'if's, and we cannot be sure that tomorrow represents the 'when' for this Dublin team's coming of age.

Before this sounds overly pessimistic, a few points worth highlighting in bold ink. This is not a great Armagh team. It is not (yet at least) the first cousin of the All-Ireland trailblazers who squeezed past Dublin at the penultimate stage in 2002, and who eventually ground the imploding Blues into submission once more the following summer.

Like Gilroy, Paddy O'Rourke is overseeing a team in transition. And, just like Dublin, they've been dogged by erratic form: good enough to win a battle of attrition in Derry; awful beyond belief against Monaghan (after a flying start, to boot); comprehensive winners against a Donegal side whose supine resistance leaves you wondering about the merit of Armagh's own performance; and then finally, last Sunday, underwhelming four-point winners over a poor enough Fermanagh.

That latter display puts Dublin's own less-than-inspired eight-point win over Tipperary into a slightly more positive context. When Tipp finally got motoring either side of half-time, Dublin looked a team bereft of on-field leaders and self-belief ... but then maybe the same doubts could be levelled at an Armagh team whose form has veered between extremes since winning a league Division Two title last spring.

However, it's notable how O'Rourke has shaken up his team since last weekend. Moreover, the introduction of Finnian Moriarty at wing-back and Kieran Toner at midfield, the switch of Malachy Mackin and Gareth Swift to the half-forward flanks and the recall of Brian Mallon at corner-forward gives them a strong look on paper.

The same paper sees Gilroy stick with the tried (and not entirely trusted) that tallied 1-21 against Tipp while leaking 1-13 at the other end. However, speculation that Bryan Cullen was poised for yet another comeback -- this time at wing-forward -- won't have been dispelled by Gilroy's revelation that Ross McConnell and Paul Flynn are both struggling to shake off knocks.

If one or both fails to make it, Cullen could come into the fray -- either as a conventional wing-forward or as a defensive sweeper offering some further protection for Rory O'Carroll & Co. They could well need it, for the rejuvenated McDonnell has been in prolific form all year while Clarke has revealed a poacher's instinct with his tie-breaking goal against Derry and early brace against Donegal.

In summary, neither team can be entirely trusted on recent form. A redemptive victory and a favourable draw could see Dublin heading back to the unhappy hunting ground that is the August Bank Holiday weekend ... the more likely alternative is that Armagh won't be scared by playing in a half-empty Croker and their forward artillery will prove too hot to handle for a Dublin defence that looks a long way off the finished article.

ODDS: Dublin 4/5, Draw 15/2, Armagh 13/10

VERDICT: Armagh by two

DUBLIN: S Cluxton; M Fitzsimons, R O'Carroll, P McMahon; K Nolan, G Brennan, D Henry; MD MacAuley, R McConnell; N Corkery, A Brogan, P Flynn; B Brogan, E O'Gara, K McManamon.

ARMAGH: P Hearty; A Mallon, B Donaghy, V Martin; P Duffy, C McKeever, F Moriarty; C Vernon, K Toner; M Mackin, A Kernan, G Swift; B Mallon, S McDonnell, J Clarke.