Meath 1-12 Louth 1-10
Referee Martin Sludden was attacked by a handful of Louth supporters as he left the Croke Park pitch after Joe Sheridan’s stoppage-time goal had clinched a first Leinster SFC title since 2001 for Meath.
The Tyrone official allowed the 74th minute score after consulting with an umpire, and the 'Wee County' dream of winning a first title since 1957 was shattered in an instant.
Louth were clinging stubbornly to a slender lead given to them by JP Rooney’s 63rd minute goal, and looked set to complete what would have been a fairytale triumph.
But the Royals refused to surrender, and got their reward with that scrappy but precious winner right at the death as Sheridan bundled the ball home following a goalmouth scramble.
Rooney had a glorious goal chance inside the opening minute, but drilled his low shot just the wrong side of a post.
The Wee county did shoot the first two scores, through Rooney and Paddy Keenan, but Meath soon established a foothold in midfield through Brian Meade and Nigel Crawford.
Crawford’s return from injury proved a massive boost to the Royals, his power and presence lifting those around him.
After Graham Reilly had opened Meath’s account in the seventh minute, they reeled off three further points, through Graham Reilly, Stephen Bray (2) and Cian Ward, and should have had more.
Louth rediscovered the range when Brian White drilled over a couple of frees to bring the sides level on 19 minutes.
Moments later, they had a second goal chance when Shane Lennon was sent clear by Colm Judge, but from a tight angle, rolled his effort wide at the far post.
Meath clicked into another gear, hitting four of the last five points of the half. Reilly was on fire, bringing his tally to four, and Crawford also powered through the middle for a point.
Meath led by 0-8 to 0-5 at half-time, but Louth dominated th early stages of th second half, closing the gap with two White efforts, one of them stroked over on th end of an excellent move.
Keenan and White were now getting more out of the midfield battle, and the attack profited, with Judge splitting the posts for a 43rd minute leveller.
A sublime sidestep and finish from Adrian Reed had the Wee County ahead soon afterwards, but Meath responded with scores from Ward and Anthony Moyles.
But Louth went ahead in the 63rd minute when Mark Brennan sent in a telling delivery which Brian Meade failed to hold, and Rooney nipped in to gather and blast a superb finish past Brendan Murphy.
Meath clawed their way back, and Ward converted a couple of long range frees. It appeared to be all over for the Royals, however, until that dramatic finish.
Meath: B Murphy, C O’Connor, K Reilly, E Harrington, G O’Brien, A Moyles (0-1), C King, B Meade, N Crawford (0-1), S Kenny, J Sheridan (1-0), G Reilly (0-4), C Ward (0-4, 4f), S O’Rourke, S Bray (0-2).
Subs: C McGuinness for Moyles, P Byrne for O’Rourke
Louth: N Gallagher, E McAuley, D Finnegan, R Greene, R Finnegan, M Fanning, J O’Brien, P Keenan (0-1), B White (0-4, 3f), A McDonnell (0-1), M Brennan, A Reed (0-1), C Judge (0-2, 1f), S Lennon, JP Rooney (1-1).
Subs: S Fitzpatrick for Greene, A Hoey for Fanning, P Smith for Lennon, D Byrne for Reed
Referee: M Sludden (Dromore).