Watching this epic qualifier tie unfold in Portlaoise, Clare sweating buckets and Meath literally spilling blood, we recalled how Colm Collins once described the Super 8s as a ‘cynical exercise in collecting more money’ by the GAA.
He confirmed afterwards that he still holds those misgivings - ‘I’ve been against it from the start but this is not the day to be talking about it’ - yet his team played as if their lives depended on reaching the last eight.
And when they lost after a compelling finale that saw Meath somehow cling on to the lead - if not always possession - they were shattered.
Ultimately, Clare came up just short despite a huge effort and all that Collins could do afterward was shrug and concede that their best performance of the entire year still wasn’t good enough.
That’s perhaps the best indicator of how well Meath played on a day of firsts for the Royal County who were understandably a little jittery at the end.
By shaking off their Leinster final heartache, Andy McEntee’s side became the first team to lose a Leinster decider and win their final round qualifier in a decade.
They are also through to the Super 8s for the first time and have met all of their targets for their season under McEntee; promotion to Division 1, qualification for the Leinster final and a Super 8s place.
Not that McEntee was crowing about it afterwards. The Meath chief declined to speak to the print media, apparently due to the coverage of his spat with a local reporter after last month’s loss to Dublin.
McEntee’s players ultimately did all the talking for him on the pitch and nobody summed up their heart and determination more than Mickey Newman.
The ultra-experienced forward missed all of 2018 as he recovered from long-term injury problems yet when the need was greatest yesterday, a minute after Clare’s 40th-minute goal which put them 1-12 to 1-11 ahead, he palmed in a Meath goal despite knowing that his momentum would take him crashing into the post.
Newman duly slammed into the woodwork as the ball hit the net and he was left with a dead leg and a bandaged head.
He is expected to be back in time for next Sunday’s Super 8s game against Donegal in Ballybofey, with further ties to come against Mayo and Kerry.
“I’m thrilled,” said Meath selector Finian Murtagh.
You can say we made hard work of it but Clare were outstanding in patches of that game and some of the scores they kicked were incredible. We were at the pin of our collars to win.
History suggested Meath might struggle because of the 76 final round qualifier games that have taken place since 2001, beaten provincial finalists have won just 28 of them.
Form and momentum clearly counts for a lot at this stage but while Clare played brilliantly, whittling a four-point deficit down to just one late on, it still wasn’t enough.
“They’ve got so near in the last couple of years, beaten by Tyrone last year after extra-time and beaten narrowly by Donegal the year before,” said Murtagh. “To be so close and to have it taken away from us those times was cruel and you could probably feel that in the last five or 10 minutes.
“I thought ultimately we won that game early in the second-half, the goal Clare got kept them in the game but Mickey’s goal straight after it was excellent so that won the game for us.”
Murtagh insisted it wasn’t panic stations in Meath after the Dublin defeat and claimed that it wasn’t as bad as the media made out.
“We took a huge amount of positives from it, I saw a few fellas in the media saying that (Meath were poor), okay a few fellas went to town on us and maybe we deserved it, I don’t know I just thought some of the comments were harsh,” said Murtagh.
Meath certainly didn’t look like a team with an inferiority complex. They contributed to a brilliant game that was level eight times in a rip-roaring first-half.
Jamie Malone kicked scores for fun from the Clare half-forward line and Gary Brennan had a terrific duel with the irrepressible Padraic Harnan.
Four Newman points from frees kept Meath in touch and they edged ahead when Bryan Menton netted in first-half injury-time.
Man-of-the-match Donal Keogan was involved in the buildup as Menton tapped in from close range but Clare immediately responded with points from Gordon Kelly and Malone to level it at half-time, 1-9 to 0-12.
It was a classic tit-for-tat scoring encounter and it continued in that vein throughout the second-half.
Gavin Cooney grabbed Clare’s goal in the 40th minute after beating Meath duo Andrew Colgan and Shane Gallagher in an aerial contest to Cian O’Dea’s ball in.
The winning of the game for Meath was their response; the Newman goal in the 41st minute when he risked, if not quite life, then certainly his limbs with the bravest of finishes to palm home Harnan’s pass before crunching into the post.
Meath would open up a four-point lead shortly after but this is a cracking Clare team, full of inspirational leaders and quality forwards. They refused to yield and outscored Meath by 0-6 to 0-3 in the closing 20 minutes or so.
Scorers for Meath:
M Newman (1-6, 5 frees); B Menton (1-0); J Conlon (0-3); S Walsh (1 free), C O’Sullivan, B Brennan, B McMahon, T McGovern, D Keogan, E Devine (0-1 each).
Scorers for Clare:
D Tubridy (0-6, 3 frees); J Malone (0-4); G Cooney (1-0); E Cleary (2 frees), C O’Connor (0-2 each); G Brennan, C O’Dea, G Kelly, D Coughlan (0-1 each).
A Colgan; S Lavin, C McGill, S Gallagher; G McCoy, P Harnan, D Keogan; B Menton, S McEntee; E Devine, B McMahon, C O’Sullivan; J Conlon, M Newman, T McGovern.
T O’Reilly (blood) for Newman (43); G Reilly for McGovern (45); S Walsh for O’Reilly (54); S Curran for Gallagher (60); B Brennan for Devine (62); S Tobin for Conlon (62); O’Reilly for McMahon (75, black card).
S Ryan; K Harnett, C Brennan, G Kelly; D Ryan, A Fitzgerald, S Collins; G Brennan, S O’Donoghue; E Cleary, C O’Connor, J Malone; G Cooney, D Tubridy, C O’Dea.
K Malone for O’Donoghue (47); D Coughlan for Cooney (53); E O’Connor for Kelly (62, black card); G O’Brien for D Ryan (64); E Courtney for Cleary (72).
D O’Mahoney (Tipperary).