Meath's Edel Guy races away from Kildare's Niamh Concannon (18) and Siobhan Hurley.
Meath 3-10, Kildare 1-7
Meath's fifth round All-Ireland Premier Junior camogie championship victory over Kildare at Páirc Táilteann on Saturday was predictable.
The Royal County defeated Kildare in the Leinster Junior Camogie final by 1-15 to 1-5 at Monastervin last May.
However, what wasn't so easy to forecast on Saturday was the amount of effort and energy that the Royals had to expend to maintain an unbeaten run that helped them top the group.
Kildare worked hard throughout and made Meath battle for every score for about 45 minutes. At that stage, the benefit of playing in a higher grade (Div 2) stood to Meath and they finished strongly for a merited victory.
With four teams out of six qualifying for the knock-out phase, the real strength of the other three contenders will emerge when the last four battle it out for final tickets on Saturday 25th August.
Meath will have the burden of favouritism going in to their semi-final against Kildare or Down who now have to play-off after finishing tied on five points for third place. The loser of that game will face Meath and the winner will tackle Laois in the other semi-final.
Meath's performance on Saturday was influenced somewhat by an experimental formation that saw Cheyenne O'Brien join Ann Marie Fagan at midfield.
Aoife Thompson returned from injury and was deployed at centre-back and that left Aoife Maguire and Kristina Troy (pictured) warming the bench.
O'Brien probably found it difficult to adapt to an unaccustomed role and was withdrawn at half-time as Meath struggled against the first-half elements at midfield and trailed by 0-2 to 0-5 at the interval.
Thompson was solid at centre-back, but she earned an avoidable yellow card following dissent to referee Pat Walsh, who made a number of baffling decisions, but they balanced out over the hour.
The opening quarter was a low-scoring affair with Sinead Hackett pointing Meath into a seventh minute lead against the elements and Kildare replying through Louise Keatley and Siobhan Hurley for a 0-2 to 0-1 first-quarter lead.
Aileen Donnelly drew the sides level in the 18th minute, but wind-assisted Kildare forged ahead close to the interval with points from Cliodhna McSweeney (two) and Susie O'Carroll.
O'Carroll's point arrived from a free that was brought forward after dissent from Thompson who then compounded her offence by moving the sliotar back slightly, but she earned a yellow card for her endeavour.
Not a good attitude from the Dunboyne player against a team that Meath were well capable of handling.
Meath manager John Davis introduced Troy and Elizabeth Oakes at half-time for O'Brien at midfield and Elizabeth Lynch in attack.
The changes had an immediate impact with points from Edel Guy, Donnelly and Jane Dolan augmented by a Sinead Hackett goal inside the opening six minutes of the second-half.
However, Meath were rocked soon after when Kildare's O'Carroll out-paced full-back Claire Coffey and finished to the net.
O'Carroll pointed a free in the 14th minute and that gave Kildare a 1-6 to 1-5 advantage, but Meath countered with points from Sinead Hackett, Guy and Donnelly (free) to lead by 1-8 to 1-5 with 10 minutes remaining.
Meath maintained the momentum despite four wides and Dolan added a brace of goals either side of a superb point from Troy who split the Kildare posts from about 70 metres.
The sides traded late points as Meath's quest for an All-Ireland title gained more momentum.
Meath - Emily Mangan (Blackhall Gaels); Holly Geraghty (Blackhall Gaels), Claire Coffey (Na Fianna), Fiona O'Neill (Dunboyne); Áine Keogh (Dunboyne), Aoife Thompson (Dunboyne), Louise Donoghue (Kiltale); Ann Marie Fagan (Trim), Cheyenne O'Brien (Kilmessan); Edel Guy (Trim 0-2), Jane Dolan (Blackhall Gaels 2-1), Aileen Donnelly (Kilmessan 0-2 one free); Elizabeth Lynch (Donaghmore/Ashbourne), Sinead Hackett (Dunboyne 1-4), Katie Hackett (Trim). Subs - Kristina Troy (Blackhall Gaels 0-1) for O'Brien and Elizabeth Oakes (Navan O'Mahonys) for Lynch half-time, Aoife Maguire (Killyon) for Oakes 56 mins.
Kildare - B Byrnes; N Breen, A Trant, J O'Donoghue; F Trant, C Nolan, N Concannon; C Flanagan, O Bambury; L Keatley (0-2), A Lyons, S O'Carroll (1-2 two frees); C McSweeney (0-2), S Hurley (0-1), R O'Connell. Sub - C Farrell for O'Connell 52 mins
Referee - Pat Walsh