A victory over already relegated Louth in the rescheduled final match of the campaign will ensure safety for the Royals.
“The consequences of not winning were huge, so you’d have to say relief there. But you’d have to be delighted with the players and the type of performance they put in — they put in the sort of shift we’ve been looking for for the last couple of games,” said McEntee.
“It’s not always easy to do it when the pressure is on; the pressure was definitely on today and it was probably one of our better performances.”
After suffering three successive defeats, this was was a game the hosts never looked like losing after Donal Lenihan converted a penalty in the opening minute. Graham Reilly added a second goal two minutes later to give the Meath men the perfect start.
Those scores stunned the Mourne men but with Donal O’Hara on target with four pointed frees, the visitors closed the gap to three points approaching half-time. Scores late in the half from Padraig McKeever and Lenihan left Meath leading 2-7 to 0-8 at the break.
With Meath operating at a much higher tempo Down struggled to produce a second-half rally. The lead stretched to nine points after Padraig McKeever burst through for a third goal on the hour mark, though Down responded almost immediately with Anthony Doherty crashing the ball to the Meath net.
Éamonn Burns’ side were unable to build on that score, however, and substitute Sean Tobin put the gloss on a fine Meath performance with the fourth goal deep into added time.
D Lenihan (1-5, 1-0 pen, 3f, 1 ‘45), G Reilly (1-2), P McKeever (1-1), S Tobin (1-0), C O’Sullivan (0-3), B Menton, B Brennan, P Kennelly (0-1 each).
D O’Hare (0-5, 5f), A Doherty (1-1), D O’Hanlon (2f), C Harrison (0-2 each), C Mooney, K McKernan, D O’Hagan, R McAleenan (0-1 each).
A Colgan; S Lavin, C McGill, B Power; J McEntee, D Keogan, S McEntee; B Menton, A Flanagan; E Wallace, B Brennan, G Reilly; C O’Sullivan, P McKeever, D Lenihan.
P Kennelly for Flanagan (h-t), J Wallace for Brennan (50), S Tobin for E Wallace (59), B McMahon for McKeever (66), M Burke for S McEntee (70), T O’Reilly for Reilly (73).
M Reid; C Flanagan, B McArdle, A Doherty; R Wells, N McParland, C Mooney; P Turley, N Donnelly; K McKernan, C Maginn, D O’Hagan; C Harrison, D O’Hare, R Johnston.
A Morgan for McKernan (BC 35), S Dornan for Johnston (45), D O’Hanlon for Flanagan, S Miller for Donnelly (both 52), R McAleenan for O’Hagan (56), D McKibbin for O’Hare (62).
B Tiernan (Dublin)