Meath 1-13 Tyrone 2-8
Resurgent Meath have emerged as front-runners for a first All-Ireland SFC title since 1999 after defeating Tyrone at Croke Park with a resounding performance of power, passion and sheer Royal resilience.
Old favourites Darren Fay and Graham Geraghty rolled back the year with imperius displays, Fay lording it at full-back, and Geraghty chipping in with a goal and two points.
Meath’s dangerous inside forward line was profiting right from the outset from the long ball option employed at every opportunity, with Stephen Bray a particularly effective ball-winner.
Bray and Brian Farrell (two) had the Royals three ahead by the eighth minute, but the Red Hands cut the deficit back to a single point when Damien McCaul made a searing run to release Gerard Cavlan for a point, before Raymond Mulgrew collected a Philip Jordan delivery at the far post and beat two men before fisting over.
But it was the Leinster side which was looking the more potent and workmanlike outfit, and long deliveries from Daren Fay and Caoimhin King set up points for Bray and Peadar Byrne.
An excellent Mulgrew point brought another emphatic response, Shane O’Rourke and Geraghty both on target at the Canal end for a 0-7 to 0-3 advantage.
Tyrone needed a touch of inspiration, and in the 24th minute they got just that. Brian Dooher picked up loose ball in midfield, and quickly transferred to Sean Cavanagh, who sprinted 60 metres before blasting an unstoppable shot to the roof of the net.
But the Red Hands failed to build on the momentum, and another volley of scores saw Meath cancel out the goal, Bray, Geraghty and Farrell all on target.
Corner back McCaul made another foray forward to shoot a point, and Colm McCullagh narrowed the deficit from a free.
Dooher’s groin injury forced him out of the action just before the break, by which stage Meath led by 0-10 to 1-5.
But Tyrone took the lead in the opening minute of the second half, Owen Mulligan netting from close range after a Gerard Cavlan free had come back off a post.
Within nine minutes, Meath had responded with a goal of their own, Farrell flicking Kevin Reilly’s delivery into the path of Geraghty, who deftly fisted over the head of advancing goalkeeper John Devine.
Both sides were guilty of a litany of missed changes, and Meath scored two points in the remaining 22 minutes, but with Fay, Chris O’Connor and Caomhin King performing heroics at the back, the held out to win by two.
Tyrone: J Devine, R McMenamin, J McMahon, D McCaul (0-1), D Harte, C Gormley, P Jordan, K Hughes, S Cavanagh (1-0), B Dooher, R Mulgrew (0-2), R Mellon (0-1), C McCullagh (0-2, 1 free), G Cavlan (0-1), O Mulligan (1-1).
Subs: E McGinley for Dooher, T McGuigan for Hughes, D Carlin for Jordan, S O’Neill for Cavlan
Meath: B Murphy, C McGuinness, D Fay, N McKeigue, C O’Connor, K Reilly, C King, M Ward (0-1), N Crawford (0-1), G Geraghty (1-2), A Moyles, P Byrne (0-1), S Bray (0-3), S O’Rourke (0-1), B Farrell (0-4, 3 frees).
Subs: S Kenny for Byrne, C McCarthy for O’Rourke, C Ward for Bray, S MacGabhann for Fay
Referee: V Neary (Mayo).