Royals hold off the weight of history to seal Super 8s spot
Meath 2-16 Clare 1-18
History weighed heavily on Meath coming into this game. Not since 2009, when Kildare saw off Division Four Wicklow, had the vanquished Leinster finalists bounced back from defeat to win a qualifier.
Psychologically, they had a battle on their hands too. A meagre four-point haul against Dublin and defeat to Clare would have left a year of discernible progress in ruin.
But selector Finian Murtagh sensed they'd get the job done. On the Monday after the Leinster final they gathered at a beach for a recovery session and started to turn the players' minds to the little chinks of light from the Leinster final.
"We took a huge amount of positives from it," Murtagh said. "I seen a few fellas in the media saying that. Okay fellas went to town on us and maybe we deserved it, I don't know, some of the comments were harsh, but we took a lot of positives.
"Defensively, I thought we were outstanding. Conor McGill, I thought, gave an outstanding performance that day and I think we held Dublin as well as any team has over the last few years for that half an hour (in the first half).
"We had 11 shots on goal, they had nine, so we took huge positives.
"But of course you are disappointed, to kick four points as a forward line you'd say okay, we didn't perform today.
"We took huge positives and we just had to move on. Dublin are arguably the best team ever to play the game so to hold them to five points (in the first half). Okay, in the end they ran over us, but we took a lot of positives."
Murtagh, along with coach Colm Nally, was on media duty in place of manager Andy McEntee after he had clashed with a local reporter in Páirc Tailteann.
And he insisted that spat didn't affect the team's preparations.
"Seriously, that wasn't even mentioned," he said.
Meath carried the favourites tag into this game, which was the first championship meeting between the sides. In the three previous League meetings from 2017 to 2019, the Royals had won by an aggregate of 31 points but most expected a much tighter game.
And that's exactly what was on offer in O'Moore Park.
The sides were level eight times in the first half, with neither team managing to move more than a point clear until Bryan Menton's goal as the clock hit 35 minutes. Menton followed up to slide home after Donal Keogan had a shot cleared off the line.
However, Clare steadied brilliantly and hit back with two points, including Jamie Malone's fourth of the half to ensure the sides went in level at the break.
Clare struck for their goal five minutes after the restart when Gavin Cooney capitalised on some poor communication between Andrew Colgan and Shane Gallagher to punch home Cian O'Dea's dropping effort.
However, Meath grabbed their second goal within 90 seconds of that score when Mickey Newman swapped passes with Padraic Harnan to slap to the net and bring his tally for the afternoon to 1-6.
Newman collided with the post in scoring the goal and had to be withdrawn.
Two more quick hits pushed Meath four clear but just as it looked like they could take control, they started to wobble.
Shane Walsh, who just completed his Leaving Cert a couple of weeks ago, kicked a crucial point from a free for Meath but they spurned a number of good chances. At the other end, David Tubridy kept Clare within a score.
In the six minutes of injury time, Clare had a few chances but when Dermot Coughlan blasted over late in the day, their chance was well and truly gone.
"Whilst you'd be devastated with the result, in the sense that we really felt getting to the Super 8s was so important to us, it just wasn't to be," said Colm Collins, who wouldn't be drawn on his future as manager.
For Meath, it's onto the Super 8s and a trip to Ballybofey. "You want to be playing the best teams and we have the opportunity," added Murtagh.