Substitute Graham Reilly netted midway through the second half at Ennis, where Meath practically sealed top-flight football as they defeated Clare by 1-12 to 1-7.
Victory secured in front of 1,421 spectators leaves the Royals with one foot and four toes in Division One. Two points clear of both Fermanagh (who they host next Sunday) and Donegal at the top of the second-division table, only the most unlikely sequence of results next weekend can now deny Andy McEntee’s men.
The only way they can miss out would be on scoring difference in the event of a three-way tie at the top but they have a vastly-superior scoring average than both Ulster counties, so would have to lose to the Ernemen by ten points or more on their home patch and Donegal would also have to beat Kildare by more than five.
The Banner County, meanwhile, who failed to score from play with the wind at their backs in the second half, find themselves in a relegation battle as they will face Munster rivals Tipperary in what will effectively be a straight shoot-out for survival next weekend.
A brace apiece from Thomas O'Reilly and Cillian O'Sullivan had Meath narrowly ahead at the break, 0-8 to 1-4, despite Sean O'Donoghue’s 29th-minute goal for the Munster men. But they were up against it as they had to face the elements when the action resumed in this vital rescheduled Round Six contest.
Ethan Devine – a late addition to the Meath XV – opened the scoring and Darragh Campion, O'Reilly and O'Sullivan added to the winners’ tally inside five minutes before Gavin Cooney opened the Banner’s account. Eoin Cleary (free) registered Clare’s second and then cancelled out O’Reilly’s second with his own, from another free.
O’Sullivan steadied the visitors on 24 minutes after David Tubridy (free) had made it a one-point game but, five minutes later, there was a dramatic twist as O’Donoghue’s goal edged the home team ahead, 1-4 to 0-6. With Shane Gallagher sin-binned, Michael Newman equalised four minutes from the break and substitute Barry Dardis nudged the Royal County back in front with the last score of the opening period on 34 minutes.
Cleary and Newman traded frees at the start of the second half and Meath were temporarily back to 14 men again when Bryan Menton was black-carded, but substitute Reilly, having only entered the fray a few minutes earlier, duly palmed Dardis' pass to the net in the 51st minute to propel them into a four-point lead, 1-9 to 1-5.
Newman added a brace of frees to stretch the lead out to a unassailable six and Cleary (two frees) replied to O’Sullivan’s strike as the winners calmly saw the game out.
Meath - A Colgan; S Lavin, C McGill, R Ryan; J McEntee, D Keogan, S Gallagher; B Menton, S McEntee; C O’Sullivan (0-3), E Devine (0-1), D Campion (0-1); B McMahon, M Newman (0-4f), T O’Reilly (0-2). Subs: B. Dardis (0-1) for S McEntee, A Flanagan for E Devine, G Reilly (1-0) for D Campion, P Harnan for B McMahon, E Lynch for C O’Sullivan.
Clare - E Tubridy; K Harnett, C Brennan, G Kelly; S O’Donoghue (1-0), A Fitzgerald, D Ryan; G Brennan, C O’Connor; K Malone, C Cleary (0-5f), J Malone; C O’Dea, D Tubridy (0-1f), G Cooney (0-1). Subs: K Sexton for K Malone, S Collins for D Ryan, E Courtney for D Tubridy.
Referee - B Tiernan.Tweet