'Delighted' Donegal advance
Donegal 1-15 Meath 1-14
Donegal won't be drastically shortening their All-Ireland odds with this performance, although they may well grow from it.
They came to Navan on a sunny Saturday evening and survived the heat, holding their nerve to win a match in injury-time that was tied on 11 occasions.
Their manager Rory Gallagher spoke of their character as they continue to repair the damage to their confidence inflicted by Tyrone in the Ulster Championship.
"I would be delighted with the effort," Gallagher stated at the end. "Two weeks now until we are ready to go again."
He was especially grateful to Patrick McBrearty for sparing them a further test of character in extra-time.
Donegal's most dangerous forward finished with four points from play, to complement three frees, and his last is the one that will be most remembered.
With the teams deadlocked and 71 minutes played, he found a half-yard and kicked a point from the 45m line with his left foot.
Meath were unhappy with the refereeing of Derek O'Mahoney and at the final whistle their manager Andy McEntee made his way towards the Tipperary match official.
They felt they had serious claims for a free in a last-ditch attack before the allotted three minutes of injury-time expired.
However, the free which levelled the game in the 70th minute, coolly converted by their excellent marksman Donal Lenihan, looked a generous award and earlier a Donegal goal was controversially disallowed for a square ball.
Lenihan finished with seven points, missing nothing from placed balls, and while Michael Murphy didn't demonstrate his usual precision - missing two frees and two 45s - he was the most influential player on the pitch.
When Donegal were struggling their captain was happy to dig deep and show his team-mates the work rate that was required.
At one point he ran back 40m to dispossess Brian Conlon, who had worked his way into a threatening position. He also scored five points, three from play, including a brilliant right-footed curler from 50m in the first half.
Paddy McGrath spent the evening following Graham Reilly around the field and after a rousing early score the Meath man failed to register again.
Cillian O'Sullivan scored 1-1, but had to go off five minutes from the end when black carded after a foul on Mark McHugh, who impressed when introduced for the final 10 minutes.
Meath defended in numbers, frustrating Donegal, and Bryan Menton and Brian Conlon, a relative newcomer, stood out in the middle. At the back Conor McGill made two goal-saving interceptions, one in each half.
Donegal looked to have taken a decisive lead when Ryan McHugh goaled on the hour mark, set up by the impressive Eoghan Ban Gallagher.
It was the only time in the match a three-point margin divided them, but in the next move Meath replied with a goal of their own, O'Sullivan finishing after Mark Anthony McGinley saved an initial effort from Pauric Harnan.
McEntee could not hide his disappointment, saying he was "devastated", although he noted Meath's resilience in refusing to accept defeat.
"We are not going to pack up and go away just because Donegal got a goal," said McEntee.
He was sore over the refereeing, though he admitted that he could have been biased.
"It is hard to know what is a free anymore. You look at the amount of Donegal scores where one of our players got body-checked attempting to block somebody. It was brought to the referee's attention but he does nothing about it. He was more concerned about where I was standing on the sideline."
Donegal had a goal from Hugh McFadden disallowed, which infuriated the visitors and had them crowding around the referee at half-time. They were also unhappy when the referee signalled a free for Ryan McHugh 10 minutes into the second-half, then allowed an advantage that didn't materialise. When Donegal lost the ball, a Meath counter-attack led to a levelling score for Shane McEntee.
Donegal's support was subdued for much of the game, but came to life in the second-half, much like the game itself, which had been tied at 0-7 a piece after a dull opening 35 minutes.
When McBrearty spun clear of Donal Keogan and kicked a neat point on 56 minutes the travelling fans finally made themselves heard.
That score nudged Donegal 0-12 to 0-11 in front, the third in a row without reply, but James McEntee had the teams tied again a minute later.
That was the type of match it was, two teams equally matched searching for some shining light of inspiration to guide them through. Donegal found it at the right time.
"We've played 11 games this year," Gallagher said. "We've only lost three of them; we've lost to Tyrone, we've lost to Kerry, we've lost to Mayo. We'd be pleased with the direction we're going. We're not the finished article, far from it, but I think if we take our chances we'll make life easier for ourselves."
They live to fight another day.
Scorers - Donegal: P McBrearty 0-7 (0-3 fs), M Murphy 0-5 (0-2 fs), R McHugh 1-0, J McGee 0-2, F McGlynn 0-1.
Meath: D Lenihan 0-7 (0-7 fs), C O'Sullivan 1-1, D Keogan, R O Coileain, B Menton, J McEntee, S McEntee, G Reilly 0-1 each.
Donegal - M McGinley; P McGrath, N McGee, C Ward; R McHugh, F McGlynn, E Gallagher; J McGee, C Thompson; C Gillespie, M O'Reilly, E McHugh; P McBrearty, M Murphy, H McFadden. Subs: M McElhinney for Thompson (42); J Brennan for McFadden (48); K Lacey for O'Reilly (57); M McHugh for McGlynn (59).
Meath - P O'Rourke; D Keoghan, C McGill, M Burke; P Harnan, B Power, S McEntee; B Menton, B Conlon; R O Coileain, J McEntee, G Reilly; S Tobin, C O'Sullivan, D Lenihan. Subs: M Newman for Tobin (ht); D Tobin for S McEntee (61); E Wallace for O'Sullivan (bc 65).
Ref - D O'Mahoney (Tipperary).