Kildare have earned a place among the top teams in the country for next year's Allianz Football League after Jimmy Hyland's fifth minute goal eventually separated Jack O'Connor's team and Meath at St Conleths Park today.
It was a rip-roaring encounter that evoked memories of some of the best games involving these two great rivals and both squads were stretched to the limit. Kildare lost two players to injury in the first quarter before Kevin Feely limped out of the action early in the second half.
For Meath, they lost Bryan Menton late in the first half and then Donal Keoghan with a shoulder injury in the second half.
It was a game that Kildare probably should have won by more. They led by ten points with 15 minutes remaining but after losing midfielder Luke Flynn to a red card, they were left clinging on at the end.
Hyland's goal gave Kildare a great start and they bossed proceedings through the opening half. With Eoin Doyle in superb form in the home back line, they restricted Meath to just four first-half points, and just two of those from forwards.
At the other end, Brian McLoughlin scored three first-half points after replacing the injured Hyland, and Alex Beirne also got on the scoresheet after replacing the unfortunate Paul Cribbin who had to leave the ground in an ambulance after falling awkwardly on an ankle.
Kildare led 1-07 to 0-04 at half time and although the introduction of the two Wallace brothers, Eamon and Joey, livened up the Meath attack Kildare appeared to withstand the best that the Royals could throw at them.
The Lillies scored four points in a row either side of Flynn’s 50th minute dismissal - for an off the ball incident with Brian Conlon - to move 1-13 to 0-06 ahead.
But Andy McEntee’s men came on strong in the remaining minutes.
In the end, there were over ten minutes of injury time played after a big melee in injury time that ended with straight red cards for Meath duo Brian Conlon and Conor McGill and three other yellow cards dished out.
Meath whittled the lead down to three points and Kildare needed a brilliant injury time save from Mark Donnellan to deny Darragh Campion an equalising goal but the final whistle blew shortly after to leave Kildare bloodied, battered but unbowed and heading for Division 1.
Kildare: Mark Donnellan; Mark Dempsey, Mick O'Grady, Eoin Doyle; Kevin Flynn, David Hyland, Ryan Houlihan; Luke Flynn, Aaron Masterson; Neil Flynn (0-03, 1f), Fergal Conway, Paul Cribbin; Jimmy Hyland (1-00), Kevin Feely (0-02, 1m), Darragh Kirwan (0-02).
Subs: Brian McLoughlin (0-05, 2f) for J Hyland (9); Alex Beirne (0-01) for Cribbin (16); Shane O’Sullivan for Feely (42); Conor Hartley for Doyle (56); Shea Ryan (0-01) for Conway (56); Darragh Malone for Kirwan (71).
Meath: Andrew Colgan; Seamus Lavin, Conor McGill, Donal Keogan, Cathal Hickey (0-02), Shane McEntee, Fionn Reilly (0-01); Bryan Menton, Ethan Devine (0-01); Pauric Harnan, Bryan McMahon (0-01), Matthew Costello; Cillian O’Sullivan (0-01), Thomas O’Reilly, Jordan Morris (0-04, 2f).
Subs: Brian Conlon for Menton (32); Joey Wallace (0-01) for O’Reilly (h/t); Eamon Wallace (0-01) for Costello (38); Jason Scully for Keogan (45); Ronan Ryan for Lavin (55); Darragh Campion for Harnan (55); Michael Newman (0-02, 2f) for McMahon (55).
Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry).