A dogged Tyrone gave newly-promoted Meath a flavour of the realities of competing in Gaelic football’s top tier as they eased to a five-point success at Healy Park.
In their first appearance at this level since 2006, the Royals struggled to break down a fortified home defence, with the Red Hands taking control in the second half.
Darren McCurry’s 1-6 was one of a number of encouraging aspects for Mickey Harte’s side, with Mark Bradley returning after a year abroad to make a real impact late on with two scores and two assists.
Meath crafted a couple of early goal chances, the first of which fell to Cillian O’Sullivan, who cut inside to get his shot away, but Niall Morgan responded with a fine save.
They had another opportunity when wing-back James McEntee made one of his many raids along the right flank, feeding Ben Brenna with a pass over the top, but one-on-one with the ‘keeper, Brennan failed to control the ball.
And the home side found the net in the tenth minute, Ronan O’Neill providing a delightful pass for McCurry, who smashed his shot past Dominic Yorke, late replacement for Andrew Colgan, who picked up an injury in the warm-up.
The Leinster men responded with a goal in the 15th minute, Bryan McMahon finding himself in acres of space to pick up Brennan’s pass and beat Morgan with a low finish to tie it up at 1-1 each.
Tyrone needed to plug those gaps, and they did so by dropping all 15 men into their own half and breaking at pace to reel off three points on the spin, two of them from McCurry. But Meath went level again on the half-our, Joey Wallace and Bryan Menton both hitting the target, thanks to some tenacious defending from David Toner and Conor McGill.
It was Tyrone who held a narrow 1-5 to 1-4 interval lead, after Liam Rafferty had slotted over a point, and with the slight wind at their backs, they pushed on with further sores from O’Neill and McCurry.
The home side’s defensive shape improved as the game progressed, and they squeezed the Royals out of the game through organisation and weight of numbers. Meath went 25 minutes of the half before Thomas O’Reilly hit their first score from play, while the Red Hands, with Rafferty finding pockets of space to probe and create, were able to exploit the space afforded by a defence growing more and more ragged as the contest progressed.
Mark Bradley returned after a one-year absence to score two and provide two assists for McCurry frees which stretched the advantage out to seven.
Late scores from Cillian O’Sullivan, O’Reilly, and McMahon did little to ease the pain as the Royals reflected on the realities of life in the top tier.
Tyrone: N Morgan (0-1, ’45); HP McGeary, R McNamee, C Meyler; M Cassidy, R Brennan, T McCann; C Cavanagh, C Kilpatrick; L Rafferty (0-2), N Sludden (0-1), D McCurry (1-6, 4f); K McGeary, F Burns, R O’Neill (0-1).
Subs: M Bradley (0-2) for Burns (46), B McDonnell for Kilpatrick (46), D Mulgrew for McCann (53), K Coney (0-1) for O’Neill (57), N Kelly for McNamee (71)
Meath: D Yorke; R Clarke, C McGill, D Toner; J McEntee, R Ryan, D Keogan; B Menton (0-1), B Conlon; B Brennan, B McMahon (1-2, 0-2f), E Wallace (0-1); C O’Sullivan (0-1), T O’Reilly (0-3), J Wallace (0-1).
Subs: B Dardis for Yorke (h-t), M Costello for Brennan (43), R Jones for Conlon (47), J O’Connor for J Wallace (58), S Tobin for E Wallace (63)
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).