Reilly runs riot for fast-rising Royals
Meath took a step closer to promotion with an emphatic victory at Casement Park.
Despite knowing they had to win the game to stand a realistic chance of avoiding relegation, Antrim were very poor and finished with 13 men after league debutant Dermot McCann and Conor Murray were sent off in the second half, both on second yellow cards.
The Royals pretty much had the points wrapped up by half-time, when they led by 1-9 to 0-6. Antrim scored first through Sean McVeigh but it was the only time they were ahead.
Michael Newman toe-poked home a scrappy goal in the sixth minute for the visitors, and it gave them the early initiative which they never relinquished.
Antrim's problem was they didn't have enough defenders capable of curbing the considerable threats of Meath's forwards.
Newman skinned Michael O'Boyle early on and Eamonn Wallace was roasting Sean Finch, so Antrim swapped their corner-backs around. Finch was taken off after 19 minutes and Justin Crozier was moved from centre-back, where he had been shadowing Graham Reilly, to shackle Newman.
Crozier did a good job on Newman, but it freed up Reilly, who suddenly came alive. McCann struggled to contain the Meath livewire, who kicked six points from play and often ran unmarked straight through the middle of the Antrim defence.
It was a tough baptism for McCann, who was booked before half-time and then saw yellow again in the 43rd minute to reduce Antrim to 14 men.
Murray was dismissed 10 minutes from the end, by which stage it was long over as a contest. All the damage was done in the first quarter, when Meath scored an unanswered 1-4 to show their intent.
"The first 10 or 15 minutes of the game was something we had focused on," said Meath manager Mick O'Dowd. "They were fighting relegation and we had a lot to fight for too. We worked hard and will take many positives from it. It's our third win in a row, we have tried 30 players in the league, and now we have a very big game next week."
Fermanagh will visit Navan on Sunday in a winner-takes-all shoot-out with the Royals. Erne boss Peter Canavan was in Casement Park yesterday and cannot fail to have been impressed with the sharpness and movement of Meath.
As well as hitting 1-19, Meath also had time to hit 13 wides, such was their dominance. Eight different Meathmen got on the scoresheet. Antrim failed to score for 19 minutes either side of the interval, with Paddy Cunningham and Tomas McCann among the few to offer resistance.
Man of the match: G Reilly (Meath)
SCORERS – Meath: M Newman 1-6 (4fs), G Reilly 0-6, B Farrell 0-2, B Meade, C Gillespie, D Larkin, E Wallace, S Curran 0-1 each. Antrim: P Cunningham 0-5 (2fs), T McCann 0-3 (1f), S McVeigh, K Niblock, C Kelly 0-1 each.
MEATH – P O'Rourke 7; D Keogan 5, B Menton 7, C Young 5; C Lenihan 6, K Reilly 7, D Dalton 7; B Meade 8, C Gillespie 7; D Larkin 7, G Reilly 8, P Byrne 7; E Wallace 7, B Farrell 7, M Newman 8. Subs: E Harrington 6 for Keogan (45), S Tobin 6 for Wallace (53), P Gilsenan 6 for Byrne (57), J Sheridan 6 for Farrell (59), S Curran 6 for Lenihan (64).
ANTRIM – J Finucane 7; K O'Boyle 6, M Johnston 6, S Finch 5; T Scullion 6, J Crozier 7, D McCann 5; L Carland 5, S McVeigh 5; C Murray 5, K Niblock 6, B Herron 5; P Cunningham 7, C Kelly 6, T McCann 7. Subs: J Laverty 6 for Finch (19), P Kelly 6 for Herron (32), M Herron 6 for Carland (46), R Johnston 6 for Niblock (58), P McNicholl 6 for Scullion (67).
REF – S McLaughlin (Donegal)