Meath 0-11 Galway 0-10
Substitute Brian Farrell and Stephen Bray kicked the final two points to steer Meath past a gutsy Galway side in Navan.
The Tribesmen missed a gilt-edged chance to bring this game to extra-time, having twice taken the lead in the dying minutes.
In the heat of the moment, Cormac Bane went for goal when the point was there for the taking and Meath goalkeeper Brendan Murphy blocked the shot.
Despite hitting nine first half wides, Meath were good value for their 0-8 to 0-4 interval lead, with defenders Gary O’Brien and Shane McAnarney among the scorers.
Inspired by captain Finian Hanley and Matthew Clancy, Galway got on top in the second half and strung together five unanswered points over the first 28 minutes.
Corner back Johnny Duane restored their all-too-brief lead with three minutes of normal time remaining. However, Farrell and Bray had the final say for the fortunate Royals.
This was a match that Seamus McEnaney’s men could so easily have let slip from their grasp. They lost their shape badly after the break and allowed Galway the time and space to mount a comeback.
The saving grace for the hosts is that they managed to squeeze through in a tense finale, putting an end to Tomás Ó Flatharta’s first Championship campaign with Galway.
This was a poor game overall, Meath’s dominance of centre-field in the opening 35 minutes giving them a welcome platform.
Shane O’Rourke and Brian Meade held the advantage in that sector, and Joe Sheridan was also a pivotal figure in a number of successful Royal raids.
There was a steady start from both sides, after the throw-in was delayed by 10 minutes to allow the sizeable crowd make their way into the Navan venue.
Kevin Reilly returned to the Meath starting line-up as their only change, and they hit the front thanks to a point from Gary O’Brien, who was brought out the pitch whilst marking Bane.
Veteran forward Padraic Joyce put his name to Galway’s first three points, the second of which came in the ninth minute after Bane and Michael Meehan had combined well.
Cian Ward, Meath’s goal-scoring hero against Louth, had an early sight of Adrian Faherty’s net but his influence was generally curbed.
Ward did kickstart a run of five unanswered points from McEnaney’s charges. Sheridan pinged over a terrific point from 45 metres, after being afforded far too much time on the ball.
Meade added the fourth score and Sheridan then provided the assist for Bray’s first of the evening, making it 0-5 to 0-2 with 18 minutes gone.
McAnarney shot over the crossbar from close range before a pointed free from Joyce closed out a barren period for Galway. They also had to cope with the loss of Michael Meehan who injured his shoulder. Fiachra Breathnach was sent on in his place.
Both sides were guilty of wayward shooting as half-time approached, but Galway were being dispossessed time after time. O’Rourke fired over a point and Bray tagged on the eighth, after Diarmuid Blake had struck Galway’s fourth wide.
The westerners were on target in injury-time, Bane’s accurate effort leaving four between the sides at the break.
Credit to Galway, with the wind freshening they produced a much-improved second half performance and slowly but surely began to eat into that deficit.
Bane knocked over a free in the opening minutes and while goalkeeper Faherty was wide from a ‘45’, the intensity was taken up a few notches his outfield colleagues.
They made better use of possession with Bane, Joyce, Garrett Bradshaw and wing forward Matthew Clancy reeling off some hard-earned points.
Meath’s game collapsed completely, their midfield was overrun and their attack tallied up seven more wides.
Driven on by the likes of Joyce, Hanley and Bane, Galway were now 0-9 to 0-8 ahead with just seven minutes left on the clock.
Substitute Graham Reilly eased the tension for the home supporters with the levelling score. However, Galway were quickly back on the attack and defender Duane was cool under pressure when kicking his side back in front.
But just when it looked like Meath were falling away again, Farrell squared the game up and Bray right-footed the match-winning score with time almost up.
MEATH: Brendan Murphy; Gary O’Brien (0-1), Kevin Reilly, Chris O’Connor; Caoimhin King, Shane McAnarney (0-1), Ciaran Lenehan; Shane O’Rourke (0-1), Brian Meade (0-1); Seamus Kenny, Joe Sheridan (0-1), Stephen Bray (0-3); Paddy Gilsenan, Paddy O’Rourke, Cian Ward (0-1, 0-1f).
Subs used: Graham Reilly (0-1) for Gilsenan, Brian Farrell (0-1) for P O’Rourke, Mark Ward for C Ward, Eoin Reilly for King, Nigel Crawford for Meade.
GALWAY: Adrian Faherty; Johnny Duane (0-1), Finian Hanley, Colin Forde; Garrett Bradshaw (0-1), Diarmuid Blake, Gary Sice; Joe Bergin, Fintan Ó Curraoin; Thomas Flynn, Mark Hehir, Matthew Clancy (0-1); Michael Meehan, Padraic Joyce (0-4, 0-1f), Cormac Bane (0-3, 0-1f).
Subs used: Fiachra Breathnach for Meehan, Paul Conroy for Bergin, Owen Concannon for Hehir, Michael Boyle for Clancy.
Referee: Michael Collins (Cork)