Meath scored 1-6 without reply in the opening 11 minutes in Newry on Saturday with James Kelly getting the opening goal.
Down hit eight wides in the first-half. Conor Mageean got a goal back for them but Meath still led by 1-11 to 1-6 at half-time.
Meath’s Sean Heavey and Down’s Michael Hughes received straight red cards for a scuffle off the ball after 28 minutes.
Down produced a great fightback in the second-half. Their midfield and half-back line won all the possession and James Turley and Paul Braniff found their range.
Sub Caolan Bailie put the sides level at 1-16 apiece after 53 minutes but Down pulled away in the last quarter.
DOWN: S Keith; J Smyth, M Hughes, S Ennis; F Conway (0-2), C Woods (0-1), M Cunningham; A Savage (0-1), M Ennis; P Sheehan (0-2), P Braniff (1-8, 6f), A O’Prey (0-3); D Toner, M Turley (0-3), C Mageean (1-0)
Subs: C Bailie (0-2) for Toner 32, D Hughes for Mageean 47, D Hobbs (0-1) for Sheehan 69
MEATH: S McGann; C Reilly, E Fitzgerald, W Mahady; J Togher (0-1), D Healy, E Keogh; S Morris, S Clynch (0-2); J Kelly (1-0), S Donoghue (0-1), C O Mealoid; S Heavey (0-1), N Kirby (0-8, 6f), P Durnin (0-5)
Subs: P Conneely (0-1) for Healy 47, C Fitzsimons for Donoghue 58, D Raleigh for Kelly 67
Referee: Eamon Hasson (Derry).