Meath 2-16 Kildare 0-17
Meath produced enough vintage football at Croke Park to book their place in another Leinster football final, but not before nervously looking over the shoulder as their Kildare opponents frantically chased them down in the closing quarter.
After an entertaining and free-flowing game – 35 scores in all – it made for an unexpectedly exciting conclusion, as Kildare ate in to Meath’s advantage which had built up to 12 points early in the second half.
Indeed Kildare got it back to within four points in the 67th minute, before eventually losing by five. It was a classic case of too little, too late for a Kildare team who also skewed a couple of late goal chances which may well have proven an unlikely winner.
Still Meath played the most impressive football, and more consistently too, Stephen Bray helping himself to four points all from play, while Dalton McDonagh scored a smashing goal early in the second half. It came after a typically bursting run through the heart of the Kildare defence, who for long stages of the game found themselves fairly defenceless against Meath's attacking game.
Andy Tormey also converted a first-half penalty (and finished with 1-4) which helped put Meath up 1-9 to Kildare's 0-7 at half-time, and after that it was a case of Kildare playing catch up, while the clock ran down.
Still they hit a succession of scores late in the second half, Pádraig O’Neill leading by example, chipping in with a couple of big scores from midfield; yet too much of their decision making was poor, while Kildare’s wide count also mounted.
Still Kildare finishing far stronger than they started, revealing reserves of energy that simply wasn't there in the opening stages. Pádraig Fogarty was also making his presence felt at last, scoring 0-6, and Alan Smith also came off the bench to score two points that at least ensured Kildare were never entirely dead or buried.
Still, Meath substitutes Joe Wallace and David Bray helped ensure their scores ticked over sufficiently enough until the end.
There was a wonderful goal chance for Tommy Moolick late on, but he just couldn't keep it low enough, firing it over the bar instead. Later still Smith's shot rebounded off the crossbar – summing up Kildare's effort on the day.
Too little, too late.
MEATH: P O'Rourke (0-2, one free, one 45); K Reilly, E Harrington, P Harnan; B Menton, D Keogan, T Tobin; S O'Rourke (0-1), B Meade; D Carroll (0-2), B McMahon, A Tormey (1-4, two frees); G Reilly (0-1), S Bray (0-4), D McDonagh (1-0).
Subs: J Wallace (0-1) for McMahon (9 mins, inj), S Kenny for Carroll (58 mins), A Flanagan for Meade (50 mins), D Bray (0-1) for McDonagh (61 mins), M Burke for K Reilly (63 mins).
KILDARE: M Donnellan; M Foley, H McGrillen, O Lyons; K Cribbin, F Conway, E Bolton; P O'Neill (0-3), S Hurley; C McNally, N Kelly (0-1), T Moolick (0-2); E Callaghan (0-3), P Fogarty (0-6, two frees), P Brophy.
Subs: A Smith (0-2) for Brophy (33 mins), G White for Hurley (43 mins), E Doyle for Bolton (47 mins), E O'Flaherty for McNally (50 mins), T O'Connor for Fogarty (67 mins).
Referee: R Hickey (Clare)