Louth had 11 points to spare over Longford ( 1-17 to 0-9), as they set up a home semi-final against Dublin in the Bord na Mona O’Byrne Cup.
Aidan O’Rourke’s men needed a big result as they came into the final round of group games with just a +3 scoring difference separating themselves and Meath at the top of Group A.
It was Louth’s second game in three days following their dramatic draw with the Royals on Thursday night, and they took a while to get going in Drogheda.
Tied at 0-2 apiece, they gradually put the Longford defence under pressure and a Shane Lennon goal, sandwiched by points from Andy McDonnell and James Califf, opened up a decent gap by the 18th minute.
Dreadnots free-taking ace Califf accounted for four of the hosts’ first half points as they went in at the break armed with a 1-8 to 0-7 advantage.
With Paddy Keenan introduced for the second period, O’Rourke’s side continued to add to their lead and McDonnell looked the part as he finished with a 0-5 tally.
Longford were reliant on free-takers Frankie McGee and Donie McElligott for much of their scores, and their midweek defeat of UCD was their only group win.
Meath completed an unbeaten three-match run in the competition by beating UCD 1-13 to 0-15 in Navan. Despite a second half goal from Damien Carroll, it was not enough for the Royals to reach the last-four.
Meanwhile, with Dublin having top spot in Group B already wrapped up, Jim Gavin fielded a young and inexperienced team against Wicklow at Parnell Park.
But Wicklow produced a battling display in the capital to claim a hugely encouraging 1-11 to 0-10 victory over the Leinster champions.
They took the verdict despite having to play most of the second half without the dismissed Paul Cunningham, who picked up a second yellow card.
Paul Earls teed up Austin O’Malley for the only goal of the game as energetic Wicklow moved 1-6 to 0-6 ahead.
Three more points before the break from Earls, Dean Healy and O’Malley left Dublin with a six-point interval deficit to overturn.
Substitutes Paddy Andrews and Diarmuid Connolly made a difference for the hosts although the latter missed a goal chance after Paul Hudson had made it 1-9 to 0-9.
14-man Wicklow dug their heels in and two fine scores from Anto McLoughlin and Rory Finn secured the result for Harry Murphy’s side.
Wicklow’s own Conor McGraynor came off the bench to score 1-1 in the second half, adding to earlier goals from Jack McCarron and Donal Smith, as DCU claimed a 3-8 to 0-8 win over hosts Carlow.
Meanwhile, Offaly edged out Westmeath by 0-8 to 0-7 in Mullingar to finish as Group C winners.
Ross Brady and captain Niall McNamee converted two frees apiece as the Faithfuls came good, having allowed the Lakesiders to dictate early on.
Westmeath dominated to take a 0-5 to 0-1 lead with the recalled Dessie Dolan picking off a brace into the opening 14 minutes.
The four-point deficit was still in place by half-time, but Offaly improved and McNamee pointed twice in quick succession to reduce the arrears.
Although Paul Bannon kept the home side in front, Offaly fought back with Brady levelling late on and Paul McPadden converting the match-winning point with three minutes left.
Kildare, who face a semi-final trip to Tullamore next weekend, maintained their winning form with a 1-13 to 1-11 triumph over Wexford at Newbridge.
The Group D winners were thankful for an injury-time goal from Morgan O’Flaherty who decided this well-contested affair.
Johnny Doyle finished with a handsome 0-7 tally, including three frees, while Wexford’s leading scorers were Shane Roche 1-4 (0-3f) and Redmond Barry 0-3 (0-3f).
Elsewhere, Laois wrapped up the competition with a 2-21 to 0-13 success at home to Athlone IT. Gary Walsh and Mark Timmons were the goal scorers.
BORD NA MONA O’BYRNE CUP GROUP STAGES –
Meath 1-13 UCD 0-15, Navan
Louth 1-17 Longford 0-9, Drogheda
Dublin 0-10 Wicklow 1-11, Parnell Park
Carlow 0-8 DCU 3-8, Dr Cullen Park
Westmeath 0-7 Offaly 0-8, Mullingar
Laois 2-21 Athlone IT 0-13, Portarlington
Kildare 1-13 Wexford 1-11, Newbridge
Carlow IT 1-10 DIT 0-15, Carlow IT