Down consolidated their place in next year's Joe McDonagh Cup competition after their eight-point win over Meath, 1-27 to 2-16.
It was a thrilling contest played at full tilt at a windy Ballycran, but Down’s composure under pressure and a strong bench helped them see off a credible Royal challenge.
Down were impressive all over the pitch and after a sticky start where both teams registered three points, they pulled away with Paul Sheehan scoring nine first-half points.
Ryan McCusker was outstanding with his busy running, while Tim Printer was fantastic around the middle and he also popped up with three points.
Meath’s Jack Reagan is a top talent, and he dictated their tempo and picked up some lovely long-range points before his late second-half goal.
Down led 0-14 to 0-09 but Meath struck the last three points of the first period, again Reagan the chief architect, and they stormed out of the blocks in the second half with three points from James Toher, Adam Gannon and Reagan before Sheehan got the Mourne men up and running with his tenth point.
The Royals were thrown a lifeline when Michael Hughes was sent to the sin-bin for ten minutes and Meath were awarded a penalty. Reagan missed from the spot but from the resultant puck-out, Alan Douglas spotted Down’s Stephen Keith off his line and from 50 metres he cleverly lobbed his shot into the net.
There was still 20 minutes on the clock and all to play for but despite their best efforts, Meath couldn’t catch a confident Down side.
Daithi Sands picked off an important point and at the last water break Down led 0-19 to 1-14, and Ronan Sheehan's men finished strongly with their substitutes making a huge contribution.
McCusker struck a great goal for Down on 59 minutes. He was screaming for the pass as he ran towards the goal and Daithi Sands crossed perfectly into his path. From outside the square he tapped into the net.
Reagan’s goal from a 21-metre only five minutes from time gave Meath some hope, but Down scored another seven points to Meath’s two, including a cracking long-range effort from Conor Woods and a flurry of points from substitutes Jordan Doran, Oisin McManus and Phelim Savage.
The result wraps up Down’s season, which has been a successful one of consolidation in both league and championship while Meath face Kerry next week in the last round of the Joe McDonagh Cup group stages. The Ulster side cannot finish bottom no matter what score arrives in that final group game.
Down: Stephen Keith, Michael Hughes, John McManus, Matt Conlon, Barry Trainor, Conor Woods (0-01, 0-1f), Liam Savage (0-01), Donal Hughes, Tim Prenter (0-03), Ryan McCusker (1-01), Paul Sheehan (0-11, 0-02fs), Chris Egan (0-01), Pearse Og McCrickard, Eoghan Sands (0-02), Daithi Sands (0-01).
Subs: Jordan Doran (0-01) for Paul Sheehan (55), Oisin McManus (0-01, 0-01f) for McCrickard (55), Phelim Savage (0-02) for Egan (57).
Meath: Charlie Ennis, Ger Murphy, Shane Whitty, Sean Geraghty, James Kelly, Darragh Kelly (0-02), Keith Keoghan, Stephen Morris, James Toher (0-02), Ian Birmingham (0-01), Jack Reagan (1-08, 1-05fs), Mark O’Sullivan, Adam Gannon (0-01), Alan Douglas (1-00), Paddy Coneelly (0-02).
Subs: Pauric O’Hanrahan for Morris (26), Eamonn O’Donnchada for Birmingham (53), Sean Quigley for Conneely (53), Conneely for Reagan (70+2).
Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow).