Meath finally waved goodbye to this year's Bank of Ireland Football Championship after a livelier and more prolific Donegal side truimphed by two points at Croke Park. In the end it looked like the Meath's never say die attitude would see them earn another late reprieve, but Donegal showed their mettle by hanging on grimly for victory.
As a spectacle, this one lacked the intrigue of the Sligo-Tyrone clash which proceeded it, but none the less the first half did manage the keep the interest. Brendan Devanney scored an early point from a free, with Trevor Giles doing similar just two minutes later.
There was plenty of niggle in the game – Mark O'Reilly, John Cullinane, Nigel Nestor and John Gildea were all booked early on – and a number of off the ball challenges also went unpunished. It was nip and tuck on the scoreboard for the rest of the half, Devanney was prolific from frees for the Donegal men, while Graham Geraghty scored two fine points from play to keep the sides level coming up to the interval.
Just before half time though the complexion of the game changed. A terrible mix-up in the Meath defence gave Christy Toye the ball 12 yards from goal and the lanky half-forward made no mistake in lashing the ball to the net to give Donegal a 1-07 to 0-06 half-time lead.
In the second period both sides kept the scoreboard ticking over nicely but that Toye's goal always seemed to be seperating the sides. Meath did manage to pull the deficit back to one point with just four minutes on the clock thanks to successive points by Ollie Murphy, Nigel Crawford and Donal Curtis, but just when it seemed the comeback kids would do it again, Michael Hegarty settled Donegal's nerves with a fisted point.
The drama didn't end there though; a lofted Ollie Murphy cross was contested by the Donegal keeper Blake and Meath's Donal Curtis. Curtis got to the ball first but his effort landed just outside the far post and wide. It was Meath's last chance and the next whistle signalled the start of the Donegal celebrations, and the end of an era for the Royal County.
Filed by Ciaran Cronin