Relieved would be the best way to describe the Meath supporters as they left Pairc Tailteann today after watching a Leinster SFC 1-13 to 0-14 win for the Royal County against Offaly.
Manager Andy McEntee and his selectors had to wait until 20 minutes into the second-half for Meath first score after the resumption as they saw a three-point interval cushion turned into a four-point deficit (0-9 to 0-13).
Meath had to work hard for a 0-9 to 0-6 interval lead against an Offaly side that wasted some good chances and finished the half with seven wides.
The teams were level five times in that opening half and it was only in the closing minutes tha Meath forged into that three-point interval advantage.
Meath scored seven of those nine points from play with a Mickey Newman barce from frees completing the tally. Cillian O'Sullivan and Bryan Menton each sent over two while Bryan McMahon, Ben Brennan and Thomas O'Reilly were also on target.
Offaly were fluent for most of the opening 35 minutes, but the wides proved costly as Niall McNamee (three frees), Peter Cunningham (two from play) and a Bernard Allen free kept John Maughan's men ticking over.
SEE THE CLOSING MINUTES IN PAIRC TAILTEANN
Offaly were back on terms seven minutes into the second-half and then forged ahead by 0-11 to 0-9 with 43 minutes on the clock as Meath were ponderous.
McNamee (three) and two from Eoin Carroll boosted the Offaly men who began to play with real belief and went further clear when Allen splt the posts from play – Offaly also managed three wides in this period of dominance.
Offaly continued in the ascendancy and Shane Horan's point gave them a four-point cushion by the 50th minute.
Meath manager Andy McEntee turned to stalwart Graham Reilly and another stalwart, Mickey Newman got the Royals off the mark with a pointed free in the 55th minute.
The Kilmainham man added another point soon after, his first from play, and Bryan McMahon made it a one-point game (0-12 to 0-13) on the hour.
Both teams then fluffed goal chances before McMahon found the net for Meath after the Offaly defence was unable to clear a high ball.
That was the pivotal score and when James Conlon added a point it gave Meath a cushion although Offaly got up the field and reduced the deficit again through Niall Darby's fine point, but the hosts survived a major scare at the first championship hurdle.
Meath – Bryan McMahon 1-2; Mickey Newman 0-4; Cillian O'Sullivan 0-2; Bryan Menton 0-2; Thomas O'Reilly 0-1; Ben Brennan 0-1; James Conlon 0-1
Offaly – Niall McNamee 0-6; Peter Cunningham 0-2; Eoin Carroll 0-2; Bernard Allen 0-2; Niall Darby 0-1; Shane Horan 0-1;.
Meath - Andrew Colgan; Seamus Lavin, Conor McGill, Shane Gallagher; James McEntee, Donal Keogan, Gavin McCoy; Bryan Menton, Shane McEntee; Cillian O'Sullivan, Bryan McMahon, Ben Brennan; Barry Dardis, Michael Newman, Thomas O’Reilly. Subs – Adam Flanagan for S McEntee half-time; James Conlon for Dardis 42 mins, Graham Reilly for O'Reilly 50m, Sean Tobin for Brennan 51m, Eoin Lynch for J McEntee 53m.
Offaly - Paddy Dunican; Declan Hogan, Eoin Rigney, David Dempsey; Cian Donohoe, Johnny Moloney, Niall Darby; Eoin Carroll, Peter Cunningham; Shane Horan, Anton Sullivan, Cathal Mangan; Bernard Allen, Niall McNamee, Ruairi McNamee. Subs – Shane Tierney for Sullivan 55 mins, Joseph O'Connor for Horan 59m, Paul McConway for Carroll 65m, Mark Abbott for McNamee 67m, Conor Carroll for Cunningham 70m.
Referee – Martin McNally (Monaghan).