Monaghan were crowned Allianz Football League Division 3 champions following a thrilling decider at Croke Park.

Eoin Duffy’s 11th-minute goal gave the Ulster side a seven-point lead, but Michael Newman responded with a Meath goal.

Monaghan led by 1-09 to 1-05 at the interval, but Davy Dalton had the Royals level again as he found the net.

Stephen Bray netted the Royals’ third goal late in the second half, but Kieran Hughes blasted home a second Farney three-pointer shortly afterwards as Monaghan ran out five-point winners.

In front of a disappointing crowd of 7,742, Monaghan’s devastating opening saw them open up a seven points lead after just 10 minutes.

They sliced through a hesitant Royal defence to execute stylish scores through Conor McManus, Christopher McGuinness, Kieran Hughes and Eoin Duffy.

And in the 11th minute, a goal of exquisite quality gave the Farney men a decided edge. Owen Lennon and Paul Finlay combined to send Eoin Duffy in for a thunderous angled finish to the top corner of the net, giving Paddy O’Rourke no chance.

But the Royals responded with a goal just a minute later, Michael Newman finishing low past Rory Beggan from Eamonn Wallace’s lofted pass.

The Ulster men had helped themselves to 1-7 by the time Duffy kicked their first wide in the 15th minute.

Meath struggled to match the fluency and cohesion of their opponents, although they did string together a productive spell which saw them hit three points in as many minutes, through Brian Menton, Wallace and Stephen Bray, who shook off two defenders to strike the kind of score that should have stirred the passions of his team-mates.

It was Monaghan who regained control, and while their finishing failed to match the energy and enthusiasm of their team-work, they looked comfortable when McManus brought his tally to four, having earlier kicked two gems from play.

Wing back Ciaran Lenehan narrowed the gap for a Meath side that was somewhat flattered to be just four points behind at the break at 1-9 to 1-5.

But they were level within two minutes of the restart. Lenehan fired over his second score, and fellow wing back Davy Dalton charged through a gap in the Monaghan defence to rifle home a brilliant goal.

The Royals failed to capitalise further on a dominant spell, and fell behind again when Duffy landed a quality score from wide on the left.

Meath struggled to cope with the power and pace of Darren Hughes, whose penetrating runs from deep gave Finlay the opportunity to open up a two points lead.

The introduction of the experienced Dessie Mone and Vinny Corey helped shore up the Monaghan defence, and Meath were held scoreless for 21 minutes, before Newman arrowed over a point.

Monaghan appeared happy to close out the final five minutes by holding possession, but they were stunned by a Stephen Bray goal which set up a compelling finish.

But the Farney men were able to respond instantly with a Kieran Hughes goal, blasted home after O’Rourke had saved brilliantly from his initial effort.

Monaghan scorers: E Duffy 1-3, K Hughes 1-1, C McManus 0-5 (1f), P Finlay 0-3 (2f), O Lennon 0-2, D Hughes, C McGuinness 0-1

Meath scorers: M Newman 1-2 (0-1f), S Bray 1-1, D Dalton 1-0, C Lenehan 0-2, B Menton, P Gilsenan, E Wallace 0-1 each.

Meath: P O’Rourke, E Harrington, B Menton, C Young, C Lenehan, K Reilly, D Dalton, B Meade, C Gillespie, P Gilsenan, G Reilly, P Byrne, E Wallace, S Bray, M Newman.

Subs: D Larkin for Gilsenan, A Tormey for G Reilly, S Kenny for Byrne, B Dillon for Dalton, B Farrell for Bray

Monaghan: R Beggan, K Duffy, D Wylie, F Kelly, D Hughes, N McAdam, C Walshe, O Lennon, D Clerkin, P Finlay, K Hughes, E Duffy, C McGuinness, C McManus, D Malone.

Subs: S Gollogly for Malone, D Mone for Clerkin, P Donaghy for McGuinness, V Corey for Wylie

Referee: P O’Sullivan (Kerry).