Royals falter in the face of Clarke brothers' tour de force
There are no All-Ireland medals handed out in February but Down's league performances are certainly auguring well for bigger battles later in the year as James McCartan's men annexed another two points at Newry on Saturday.
It wasn't as easy on the eye as their opening-round demolition of Kildare, but Down's workmanlike display - epitomised by the Clarke brothers - was enough to see off a Meath challenge that didn't give the travelling contingent much to shout about at a freezing Esler Park.
Down galloped into a 0-6 to 0-2 lead after 28 minutes. They owned the ball during that spell and should have made the umpires work a bit harder. Paul McComiskey popped over frees in the seventh and 28th minutes and sandwiched in between were two fine points from the returning Martin Clarke, while older brother John also got on the scoresheet.
However, Meath finished the half strongly and were only behind by the minimum of margins, 0-5 to 0-6, at the change of ends.
David Bray, who was the visitors' liveliest attacker in the opening period, scored their opening two points from frees. The midfield pair of Mark Ward and Nigel Crawford then found their range before Cian Ward closed the first half with a well-struck free.
An intriguing looking second half didn't develop as the crowd of about 4,000 might have hoped. It took 11 minutes for the first score to arrive through John Clarke but it certainly didn't open the floodgates and scores were very scarce.
Rodgers surged through the middle to send over his second score in the 52nd minute. Then, McComiskey and Cian Ward exchanged points to leave the scores 0-9 to 0-6 in favour of Down with 15 minutes left.
But despite being second best in most areas, Meath should have levelled after 57 minutes when Cian Ward latched onto a cross-field pass from David Bray, but he blazed over from eight yards.
Down dominated the closing stages and points from John Clarke, Conor Maginn and McComiskey saw them ease clear with a late Cian Ward free Meath's only response in the final 10 minutes. Joe Sheridan's introduction with four minutes left couldn't resuscitate the Royals and manager Eamonn O'Brien can have no complaints about the outcome.
Scorers -- Down: J Clarke 0-4; P McComiskey 0-3 (2f); M Clarke (1f), A Rodgers 0-2 each; C Maginn 0-1. Meath: C Ward 0-4 (1f); D Bray 0-2 (2f); M Ward, N Crawford 0-1 each.
Down -- B McVeigh; D McCartan, B McArdle, D Rafferty; K McKernan, J Colgan, C Garvey; A Rodgers, K King; C Maginn, M Clarke, D Hughes; P McComiskey, J Clarke, B Coulter. Subs: A Brannigan for McKernan (25), C Laverty for Hughes (65), S Kearney for Maginn (68), P Fitzpatrick for King (69).
Meath -- P O'Rourke; N McKeigue, J Macken, E Harrington; C McGuinness, M Burke, G Reilly; N Crawford, M Ward; S Kenny, S Bray, P Byrne; D Bray, J Queeney, C Ward. Subs: C O'Connor for McKeigue (h-t), O Lewis for Kenny (46), J Sheridan for Queeney (66), A Moyles for Crawford (66).
Ref -- J McQuillan (Cavan).