Tough test has Super outcome for Royals
Meath 2-16 Clare 1-18
It was a stumble more than a march, but Meath finally navigated their way to the Super 8s following a nail-biting finish in this round-four SFC qualifier tie at O'Moore Park, Portlaoise on Sunday last.
The Royals had to endure some anxious moments in the six minutes of added time as Clare attempted to wipe out a three-point deficit. The Banner managed to reduce the deficit to the minimum, but their last point from substitute Dermot Coughlan was the final action of an exciting contest that was littered by mistakes from both sides.
Moments before that concluding score full back Conor McGill dived full-length to make a block before the danger was finally cleared by Padraic Harnan as Clare went in search of a match-winning goal.
Donegal away, Mayo in Croke Park and Kerry in Navan now await Andy McEntee's side and those tests will give a clearer picture of where Meath lie in the greater scheme of things.
On the evidence of this display they will need to improve significantly if they're to have a chance going into the final match against the Kingdom, but on a positive note Meath showed few signs of scarring from the Leinster final drubbing by Dublin, with a major improvement in their forward play.
A goal from Mickey Newman on 40 minutes ultimately proved the difference, but that score came at a cost as the Kilmainham man was forced to leave the action with an injury when he collided with a post after slapping the ball past keeper Stephen Ryan from a Padraic Harnan pass.
Newman suffered a cut to his head, but it's a knee injury which will have the Meath management sweating ahead of the Donegal tie in Ballybofey on Sunday.
The goal from Newman left it 2-11 to 1-12 and it came a minute after Gavin Cooney had netted for Clare at the other end. It was a goal that Meath keeper Andy Colgan will have nightmares about as the Donaghmore/Ashbourne man failed to deal with a high delivery from Cian O'Dea and Gavin Cooney beat Shane Gallagher to the jump to force the ball over the line.
It left Clare ahead for the only time in the half, but Meath wasted little time in regaining the lead. Points from wing back Donal Keogan and Ethan Devine left them four clear by the 44th minute, though their scoring rate dropped following Newman's departure.
Clare reduced the deficit to two points on three separate occasions, but each time Meath responded, with substitutes Shane Walsh (free) and Ben Brennan on target as well as Cillian O'Sullivan.
Centre back Harnan, who produced a very impressive second half, had an opportunity to put the game out of reach on 66 minutes, but his goal effort went the wrong side of the post.
Meath, for the most part, made the best of the chances that came their way and their opening wide didn't arrive until the 45th minute when Thomas O'Reilly was off target from a relatively easy free.
As seems to be customary of late, Meath made a number of changes before the start from the team announced on Saturday morning, with Ethan Devine and Thomas McGovern replacing the St Colmcille's duo Graham Reilly and Ben Brennan.
There was little, if anything, between the sides throughout the opening half, with the sides level on eight different occasions including half-time, 1-9 to 0-12.
Five of those Meath points came from Newman, while James Conlon was also busy in that opening half, scoring a brace of points.
With David Tubridy and Eoin Cleary causing problems, Clare led 0-5 to 0-3 after 15 minutes and they edged the lead again on a couple of occasions until Donal Keogan eventually helped find a way to the net on the stroke of half-time.
The Rathkenny man managed to side-step the keeper but then saw his effort cleared off the line by Sean Collins, and fortunately for Meath Bryan Menton was following up and he firmly planted the ball to the net.
That left Meath leading 1-9 to 0-10, but Clare showed tremendous resolve to reply with points from Gordon Kelly and the impressive Jamie Malone, his third of the half, to finish level at the break.
Meath restarted with points from Newman (free) and Conlon before Gavin Cooney struck for that goal.
It didn't take long for Meath to regain the lead, and while they struggled to shake off their opponents they did defend superbly at times in the closing stages.
MEATH: Andy Colgan; Seamus Lavin, Conor McGill, Shane Gallagher; Gavin McCoy, Padraic Harnan, Donal Keogan 0-1; Bryan Menton 1-0, Shane McEntee; Ethan Devine 0-1, Bryan McMahon 0-1, Cillian O'Sullivan 0-1; James Conlon 0-3, Mickey Newman 1-6 (5f), Thomas McGovern 0-1. Subs: Thomas O'Reilly for Newman (43), Graham Reilly for McGovern (45), Shane Walsh 0-1f for O'Reilly (54), Sean Curran for Gallagher (60), Ben Brennan 0-1 for Devine (62), Sean Tobin for Conlon (72), O'Reilly for McMahon (BC 75).
CLARE: Stephen Ryan; Kevin Harnett, Cillian Brennan, Gordon Kelly 0-1; Dean Ryan, Aaron Fitzgerald, Sean Collins; Gary Brennan 0-1, Sean O'Donoghue; Eoin Cleary 0-2f, Cathal O'Connor 0-2, Jamie Malone 0-4; Gavin Cooney 1-0, David Tubridy 0-6 (3f), Cian O'Dea 0-1. Subs: Kieran Malone for O'Donoghue (47), Dermot Coughlan 0-1 for Cooney (53), Einne O'Connor for Kelly (BC 62), Gearoid O'Brien for D Ryan (64), Eimhin Courtney for Cleary (72).
REF: Derek O'Mahoney (Tipperary)