Meath 2-16 Kildare 0-17
Kildare made it interesting in the final quarter and had they been more clinical, might have completed a remarkable fightback, but in the end, Meath had done enough in their period of dominance to claim a place in the Leinster final.
At one stage, early in the second half, Meath were 12 points clear (2-13 to 0-7) and should have been further ahead, having spurned four fantastic goal chances.
Kildare whittled that down to four at one juncture but shot some terrible wides and Meath were deserving winners in the end.
The game was played at a breakneck pace from the start. Paddy O’Rourke came forward to open the scoring from a 45 in the first minute but Podge Fogarty had the sides level from a free soon after.
Fogarty was Kildare’s most dangerous attacker in the first half and he took the ball from Cathal McNally before sending over from a narrow angle with the outside of the right boot to give the Lilywhites the lead.
Meath packed their defence and looked to isolate Stephen Bray and Dalton McDonagh in a two-man full-forward line, by sending the ball directly into the vast spaces in front of the duo at every opportunity.
They got plenty of dividend too but might have had more and Mark Donnellan made a spellbinding one-handed save from McDonagh, although Shane O’Rourke did bring the sides level as Meath recycled well.
Bray opted to take a point when having half a sniff of a goal soon after but Fogarty continued to keep Kildare in touch, just as his recently-retired uncle, Johnny Doyle tended to do, making no mistake from a placed ball.
It was Bray that restored Meath’s advantage as the Royals began to get the upper hand around the middle.
Andrew Tormey stretched the lead but only after McDonagh’s thunderbolt rocketed down off the underside of the crossbar and Hugh McGrillen fingertipped clear with the Meath forwards closing in.
Kildare made the best of their good fortune – and last ditch defending – and Fogarty slotted his fourth point after taking a delightful pass from Niall Kelly, who then brought the sides level.
Damien Carroll and Bray were Meath’s two most influential players in that period and they linked for the latter to record his third point but typically of this nip-and-tuck encounter, Kildare were back on terms through Eamonn Callaghan.
Fogarty missed two chances to put Kildare ahead but Graham Reilly made no mistake at the other end, with Carroll providing another assist.
Bray wasted another goal chance when driving wide with McDonagh unmarked in front of the posts but Tormey and Carroll did give the scoreline a look more reflective of the general play.
Donnellan was forced into two more point-blank saves to deny the unfortunate McDonagh but when McDonagh was adjudged to have been fouled by Mick Foley, the Kildare goalkeeper was finally beaten in the second minute of injury time by Tormey’s scruffily-kicked penalty to leave it 1-9 to 0-7.
Carroll had a point immediately after the resumption before Kildare’s creaking full-back line finally yielded to the McDonagh threat, with the flame-haired forward gathering a breaking ball before slotting beyond the exposed Donnellan.
That made it a nine-point game with 32 minutes still left and it seemed curtains, with Meath concentrating on points from that juncture. Tormey, Bray and Paddy O’Rourke found the target as the gap widened to 12.
Kildare did create one very good goal opportunity as McNally and Kelly combined to set up Alan Smith but his shot was deflected over.
Jason Ryan’s men managed to increase their possession as Meath retreated into defensive mode and when Fogarty (free), Smith and Tommy Moolick (from a goal chance) raised white flags, the margin was reduced to six with 14 minutes still left.
O’Neill was playing a huge part in the turnaround in the centre and he lofted his third point as the game finally came to life. Critically though, Kildare missed some excellent chances to get closer and Smith arrowed a shot off the post with Paddy O’Rourke beaten.
Meath were hanging on just a little but they had built up enough of a buffer to book their place in the Leinster final.
MEATH: P O’Rourke 0-2(1f, 1 45), E Harrington, K Reilly, B Menton, P Harnan, D Keogan, D Carroll 0-2, S O’Rourke 0-1, B Meade, D Tobin, D McDonagh 1-0, A Tormey 1-4(1-0 pen, 0-2fs), G Reilly 0-1, S Bray 0-4, B McMahon. Subs: J Wallace 0-1 for McMahon inj (8), A Flanagan for Meade (50), S Kenny for Carroll (59), D Bray 0-1 for Tobin (62), M Burke for K Reilly (63)
KILDARE: M Donnellan, H McGrillen, M Foley, E Bolton, O Lyons, F Conway, K Cribbin, T Moolick 0-2, P O’Neill 0-3, C McNally, E Callaghan 0-3, S Hurley, N Kelly 0-1, P Fogarty 0-6(4fs), P Brophy. Subs: A Smith 0-2 for Brophy inj (33), G White for Hurley (44), C Fitzpatrick for Foley (44), E Doyle for Bolton (47), E O’Flaherty for McNally (50), T O’Connor for Fogarty (67)
REFEREE: R Hickey (Clare)