This was a match stolen from the summer, a frantic contest with both teams flinging themselves at it like they could not countenance defeat. The backdrop explains the intensity to some extent. Meath have become fed up losing to Kildare but they had started this League with two wins. Kildare began with two defeats.
A third for Kieran McGeeney's fleet-footed charges would have caused more corrosion to their confidence and ended their prospects of being in the chase for promotion. What better place to reboot than against a Meath team foaming at the mouth in Navan? Last night's result means Kildare have won the last five competitive meetings between the teams, three in the Championship and two in the spring.
This will hurt the Royals because they rallied heroically and looked to have rescued something from the match. They managed that in spite of having to absorb huge amounts of pressure and virtually conceding midfield in the first half.
Kildare moved with familiar thunder and had players popping up everywhere, ignoring the formality of positions and the numbers on their backs. True to form, the winning score came from a back: Ollie Lyons surged forward in injury-time and the teams level. With no one looking to relieve him of the duty he fisted over the bar and Meath were finally broken.
For a League game it was an incredible contest, providing an almost obscene level of entertainment in early March. The finish was cruel on Meath but Kildare had the majority of possession and while they often made poor use of it, a final tally of 18 points will act as a buffer for much of the criticism. They'll know, though, that Meath should not have been within touching distance given their territorial dominance.
Eoghan O'Flaherty was their scorer-in-chief with six points, half of those from play. Four more points came from defenders, two of those from Lyons, but that is nothing unusual from Kildare. They are anything but orthodox. In the first half they dominated clearly and yet found it hard to shake off Meath.
John Doyle helped them gain a foothold around the middle of the field where they ruled with impunity and for a good stretch it looked like they could annihilate the hosts.
As it happened they had to settle for a two-point interval lead, 0-8 to 0-6, and while Meath were level early on the restart, Kildare continued to set the pace. They had re-established a three-point advantage when Meath scored the first goal and the crowd went wild.
Joe Sheridan came on early in the second half for Cian Ward and set up Paddy Gilsenan, one of Meath's most dangerous forwards, for a well-executed finish. Charged up by that score they went in front for a fleeting moment through Tom Walsh, not long on the field. In fairness to Kildare, they never stopped and anything Meath threw at them, they repaid with interest.
Kildare kept nudging in front; Meath kept pegging them back. Kildare looked to have beaten Meath with consecutive scores entering the last six minutes, the second coolly dispatched by Morgan O'Flaherty. Then Meath raced downfield and substitute Donnacha Tobin goaled with six minutes left and the place rocked again. On came Alan Smith, replacing James Kavanagh, who had failed to score, and he kicked the leveller.
Both sides had chances to kick the next score and claim victory but the honour was left to Lyons, who must have been long odds before the start. He'll dine out on that one for a while.
Meath, though, had greater economy and worked scores with less effort and had a more brazen demeanour when the posts were within sight.
The winners had only one goal chance which Mikey Conway blazed over after a great fetch from Doyle in the first half launched a sweeping move through the Meath defence.
But a win is a win and Kildare are up and running after a poor start. They'll have left Navan emboldened and somewhat relieved.
Scorers -- Kildare: E O'Flaherty 0-6 (3f), E Callaghan, P O'Neill, O Lyons 0-2, D Flynn, T O'Connor, H McGrillen, M Conway, M O'Flaherty, A Smith 0-1. Meath: P Gilsenan 1-2, S Bray 0-4 (3f), D Tobin 1-0, M Burke, C Ward, S McAnarney, C O'Connor, T Walsh 0-1.
Kildare: S Connolly; M Foley, H McGrillen, A MacLachlainn; O Lyons, M O'Flaherty, E Bolton; D Flynn, P O'Neill; E Callaghan, J Doyle, E O'Flaherty; J Kavanagh, T O'Connor, M Conway. Subs: P Kelly for Foley (33); R Sweeney for Flynn (40); A Smith for Kavanagh (51); C Fitzpatrick for MacLachlainn (56); K Ennis for Doyle (66).
Meath: D Gallagher; M Burke, K Reilly, B Menton; G O'Brien, S McAnarney, C McGuinness; B Meade, M Ward; S Kenny, G Reilly, C O'Connor; P Gilsenan, S Bray, C Ward. Subs: D Tobin for O'Brien (25 mins); J Sheridan for Ward (38); C King & T Walsh for B Meade & C McGuinness (46); G Geraghty for G Reilly (66).
Referee: M Collins (Cork)
Sunday Indo Sport