Dublin regained the Cadburys Leinster Under-21 Football Championship on Wednesday evening after a 0-15 to 0-10 win over Meath at O’Moore Park in Portlaoise,

However, the hot favourites were made to work for their victory by a combative and committed Royal County side.

The Dubs led 0-7 to 0-3 at the break but they were flattered by that advantage as Meath shot eight wides and had a penalty brilliantly saved by Lorcan Molloy in the opening half hour.

Three points in as many minutes after the restart stretched that lead further and while the Royals kept pushing right to the end, they never got the goal they badly needed. 

Meath started their first provincial decider in the grade since 2001 as massive outsiders after losing the corresponding tie in the 2011 minor championship by ten points but they wasted no time in attacking this fixture with gusto and struck two wides before eventually opening the scoring through Bobby O’Brien.  

As was to be the case throughout the first half, Dublin proved far more clinical when they got the ball into their forwards and Conor McHugh, Paul Mannion and Eric Lowdnes gave them a two point lead by the ten minute mark.

Seamus Mattimoe and Cormac Costello traded points before referee Fergal Barry gave Meath the game’s first goal chance when he awarded them a penalty in the 20th minute.

A great run from Brian Power down the left wing created an opening and when he slipped the ball into Padraig Harnan, both Robert McDaid and Lorcan Molloy converged on the Meath player and bundled him over, illegally in the eyes of the Kildare arbiter.

Bobby O’Brien’s penalty was well struck, high and to the right of Molloy in the Dublin goals, but the St Annes player was equal to the challenge, stretching out to deflect the ball around the post for a ‘45.

O’Brien went some way towards amending for his failure to convert when he struck a glorious point from 50 metres out to halve the deficit.

However the Ratoath centre forward’s good work in general play was somewhat undone by his inaccuracy in this first half as he accounted for four of the eight Meath wides – two from relative close range.

Man of the match Shane Carthy (twice) and Cormac Costello tacked on scores before the break and while Meath got the first point after half time from the boot of Shane McEntee, the Dubs went on to enjoy their best spell of the game with four points in succession, initiated by a wonderful right-footed Niall Scully effort from just inside the 45m line.

Meath had their second goal chance of the tie in the 38th minute and again they found Molloy too good to beat as he stretched out to deny Conor Sheridan’s twenty metre drive.

Mattimoe and Joey Wallace kicked scores for Meath to reduce the deficit but Dublin’s seven point advantage was restored when Gavin Burke and Shane Carthy struck elegant scores from the right and left wing respectively. 

As the game entered the last 10 minutes Meath’s superiority at midfield was really beginning to tell and they enjoyed the lion’s share of primary possession in the closing stages, though they failed to break down the Dublin back line who could now fall back in numbers.

The vanquished did pick off four more points but they never came close to getting another sight on goal, while Dublin kept them at bay with two of their own, both struck on the break as Meath poured forward in a bid to salvage their championship.

Dublin: L Molloy; R McGowan, D Byrne, R McDaid; J Small, Stephen Cunningham, J McCaffrey; P O’Higgins, S Carthy (0-03, 0-01 free); N Scully (0-01), E Lowndes (0-01), C Costello (0-04, 0-02 frees); C McHugh (0-03, 0-01 free), M Deegan, P Mannion (0-01 free). 

Subs: S Boland for Deegan (23), G Burke (0-02) for Cunningham (HT), E Ó’Conghaíle for Costello (47), Shane Cunningham for O’Higgins (54).

Meath: A Colgan; S Carty, C McGill, D McQuillan; B Power, S Melia, S McEntee (0-01); A Flanagan, C Sheridan; N Shortall, B O’Brien (0-04), P Harnan; S Mattimoe (0-03, 0-02 free), B McMahon (0-01 free), J Wallace (0-01).

Subs: C Finn for McQuillan (39), A Burke for Carty (46), O Fitzpatrick for Power (51), B Dardis for S McEntee (54)

Referee: Fergal Barry (Kildare)