Perhaps Johnny Doyle in his prime might have pulled this one out of the fire but at 41 a Leinster JFC final miracle was just beyond him. Five years after retiring from senior duty, the former Kildare captain came on in the second-half of a game that was on the verge of running away from his team.
Kildare, to their credit, rallied at Croke Park and reduced a seven-point deficit with 11 minutes remaining to just a one-point game in stoppage time. But the holders just couldn't grab an equaliser and coughed up possession that led to Meath winning a free and scoring the insurance point.
It secured a two-point win for Meath, revenge for last year's two-point defeat to the Lillies and also progression to a July 6/7 All-Ireland semi-final against the Connacht champions. Meath goals in the 12th and 14th minutes from Ruairi O Coileain and Kevin Ross ultimately put them into a lead they wouldn't relinquish, despite Kildare's spirited effort.
O Coileain is a former senior star himself having been a key figure in the 2017 Championship for Meath before leaving due to work commitments ahead of the 2018 campaign. The Navan O'Mahonys man, who finished with 1-2, didn't feature in the junior semi-final win over Louth so his late addition wearing number 24 was a giant boost.
O Coileain went close after just two minutes with an effort that was cleared off the line as Meath dominated with Sean Reilly also threatening the net. O Coileain eventually hit the target in the 12th minute with a rocket to the corner and Ross followed his lead shortly after with a clever finish from the left after good work by Reilly.
Meath led 2-7 to 0-7 at the interval and Kildare responded early in the second-half by bringing on Doyle though his impact was limited, kicking a couple of point efforts wide. Meath were on top in the third quarter and stretched their lead back out to seven points with a 49th minute score from sub Stephen Coogan.
Kildare saved their best form for the last 10 minutes and outscored Meath by 0-7 to 0-1 between the 51st and 63rd minutes to leave just a point in it. With Jack Robinson in top form, they piled on the pressure and came so close to grabbing an equaliser but with just moments remaining lost possession and O Coileain won a free that Frank O'Reilly converted, much to Meath's relief.
R. O Coileain, K. Ross (1 free) (1-2 each); F. O'Reilly (0-5, 3 frees, 1 45); J. Scully (0-2); J. Cassidy, D. Quinn, S. Coogan (0-1 each).
J. Robinson (0-7); P. Nash (0-4, 4 frees); S. O'Rourke, B. Noone (0-2 each); E. Lawless, M. Grace, D. Grehan (0-1 each).
A McDermott; M. Callaghan, M. Flood, D. Gibney; C. McConnell, R. Hand, J. Cassidy; R. Clarke, D Quinn; R. O Coileain, F. O'Reilly, J. Scully; O. Meehan, K. Ross, R. Farrelly.
D. Finney for Farrelly (h/t); S. Coogan for Meehan (42); S. Claire for Ross (60); G. Duane for Gibney (62).
T. Kinsella; G. Scanlon, C. O'Shea, D. Malone; O. Dunne, M. Grace, O. Whelan; D. Grehan, J. Bambrick; E. Lawless, S. Hanafin, P. Nash; J. Robinson, M. Nolan, N. Murphy.
S. O'Rourke for Nolan (h/t); J. Doyle for Murphy (37); C. Jamieson for Whelan (39); R. Casey for Dunne (49); M. Grehan for Hanafin (52); B. Noone for D Grehan (53).
C Dwyer (Offaly).