Meath end barren qualifier years
Meath 0-14 Sligo 1-9
The traditional Meath late finishing burst remains deep in the Royals' DNA - not as prominent perhaps as in their glory era of the Eighties and Nineties, but Andy McEntee's team showed enough of that inherent defiance to see off Sligo at Pairc Tailteann in Navan on Saturday night.
Thus ended an era of embarrassment for a proud footballing county in which Meath failed to win a qualifier game since defeating Galway in July 2011.
The performance was adequate, and today's draw for the next round of the knock-out series brings a new challenge.
That said, on a blustery Saturday evening, past and future were irrelevant for the home fans in the 7,212 attendance as they roared their team to a hard-earned victory.
Three points adrift at half-time after Sligo's Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch had scrambled home a 30th-minute goal to edge the visitors ahead by 1-6 to 0-6, Meath found themselves mounting a series of cavalry charges late in the game.
Two stalwarts, Graham Reilly and substitute Mickey Newman, who came on in the 61st minute played pivotal roles.
Reilly fought like a man possessed to gain possession and ranged up and down the field for the cause.
Newman, who has seen very little football action for club or county in the last six months due to a long-term ankle injury, looked as if he had never been away as he slotted over two points from frees in the 65th and 67th minutes.
The first one brought Meath level at 0-11 to 1-8; the second gave them the lead for the first time since the 25th minute.
With the crowd in a frenzy of excitement, the game went on until 75 minutes had been played, due to time added on by referee Noel Mooney.
Sligo could have punished Meath but missed a couple of good scoring opportunities and some furious action took place close to Paddy O'Rourke's goal area. Sligo's Chris Davey got a shot on goal, but the ball was scrambled away and Meath held out.
The closing stages brought relief with a brace of points by full forward Sean Tobin, while Neil Ewing got one for Sligo with almost the last kick of the game.
Overall, the aim of survival was achieved with some pride regained.
Meath manager McEntee praised his players for their dogged refusal to fall to another qualifier defeat.
"There was a period there with ten or twelve minutes to go that we looked like we were in trouble, but they stuck at it.
"Defensively I thought we looked a lot stronger today than we have done.
"It was a matter of sticking at it and trying to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
"I was most pleased that with ten or twelve minutes to go momentum was back with Sligo, and fellas showed a bit of character and showed a bit of heart, and finished the game quite strongly," said McEntee.
The game started with a notable incident. In fact, even before he threw the ball in to get the match under way, referee Mooney's attention was drawn to a bit of argy-bargy in the Meath half back line.
Immediately he marched down, pulled out the yellow card, and booked Meath's Brian Power for a tussle with Mark Breheny of Sligo.
In the old days, that would have been a signal for a powder keg game, but modern football is, by and large, better policed with little chance of offenders getting away with mayhem.
The ref only booked two more players, awarding a yellow card to Graham Reilly of Meath in the 35th minute, and one to Sligo's Keelan Cawley (70 mins).
He also showed St Vincent's All-Ireland club medal winner Brendan Egan black card on 55 minutes. This came just a minute after Sligo's Breheny went off injured. Charlie Harrison, another talisman for Sligo, left the field after a knock in the 46th minute.
Given this was a war of attrition, albeit with both sides attempting to make fast counter-attacks throughout the game, Sligo could ill-afford to lose players of this calibre. That aspect, plus some wastage of good chances, prevented the visitors from finishing off Meath.
Manager Niall Carew commented: "Ten minutes into the second half when we had a period of dominance, we were two points up and we had three opportunities for scores, and we missed them.
"Meath were always going to get their dominant period, and they did, and they scored four points without reply. Then we had that goal chance at the end."
On the loss of his more senior players, Carew said: "If they'd been there, I don't think Meath would have got in as easy for the scores.
"Brendan holds centre-back very well for us, and obviously Charlie's a very good man marker. But in saying that, it comes down to the four or five chances we created and didn't take any of them."
Carew, who has been in charge for three campaigns, will take time to consider his future. "It's massive commitment. I just need to sit down for a few weeks and see where it takes me."
Meath's Graham Reilly was relieved with the result and looks forward to playing again next weekend. He reckons if the Royals can cut down on frees conceded, and break out of defence more quickly, they can improve.
"We're not entirely happy with our performance but we did what we had to do to get over the line," he said.
Scorers: Meath: D Lenihan 0-3 (2f); S Tobin 0-3 (1 45); G Reilly; M Newman (2f) 0-2 each; J McEntee; R Jones; S McEntee; C O'Sullivan 0-1 each. Sligo: A Marren 0-4 (3f, 45); G O'Kelly-Lynch 1-1; S Tobin; N Murphy; N Ewing; D Kelly 0-1 each
Meath: P O'Rourke 6; M Burke 6, C McGill 6, B Power 5; P Harnan 6, D Keogan 6, S McEntee 6; B Menton 6, R Jones; J McEntee 6 C O'Sullivan 6, R O'Coilean 6; G Reilly 7, S Tobin 6, D Lenihan 6.
Subs: J Toher 6 for R Jones (inj 15); B Conlon 6 for B Power (h/t); M Newman 6 for D Lenihan (61); D Tobin 5 for P Harnan (64);
Sligo: A Devaney 6; R Donovan 6, G O'Kelly-Lynch 6, C Harrison 5; Keelan Cawley, 6, B Egan 7, J Kelly 6; A McIntyre 6, P O'Connor 6; N Ewing 6, M Breheny 6, N Murphy 6; S Coen 6, P Hughes 6, A Marren 7.
Subs: N Gaughan 6 for C Harrison (46); Kyle Cawley for J Kelly (48); K McDonnell 5 for M Breheny (54); D Kelly 5 for B Egan (b/card) 57; S Gilmartin for A McIntyre (66); C Davey for P O'Connor (72)
Ref: N Mooney (Cavan)