The trend of beaten Leinster finalists not making the last eight of the All-Ireland SFC race was bucked at Portlaoise this afternoon as Meath held on scrape a 2-16 to 1-18 pulsating victory over Clare.
Not since 2009 has a team from the province won a round four qualifier, but Meath showed enormous guts, determination and hunger to bounce back from the disappointment of the demoralising loss to Dublin to claim their place in the Super 8s for the first time – but it wasn't without a scare or two.
As the clock ticked into the 77th minute, despite only six minutes of injury-time being announced, Jamie Malone found himself in front of goals with an opportunity to rattle the net and spring a surprise, but out of nowhere Conor McGill flung his body across the unleashed shot and prevented what looked a certain goal.
There was still time for Clare to fire over one more point from Dermot Coughlan, but it was a goal they needed and in no short measure due to McGill and his defensive colleagues Meath survived much to the relief of the huge crowd.
The opening period was 100 miles an hour from the off with both sides producing moments of excellence mixed with sloppy passing and careless shooting.
Meath kicked no wides in the opening 35 minutes, but dropped four decent chances short and lost possession when scoring chances were on, while some of Clare's shooting was hurried and wayward.
Meath's opening two scores from Mickey Newman frees's sandwiched Jamie Malone's first point of the afternoon and by the seventh minute Clare were level when Cathal O'Connor lofted over from 43 metres.
Newman left a 38-metre free short of the target and on the counter Clare pounced with the outstanding Gary Brennan racing away from Padraic Harnan to give side the lead for the first time.
That advantage lasted two minutes as Bryan McMahon capitalised on an amazing fetch by Ethan Devine to score Meath's first from play, but by the 16th minute Clare were 0-5 to 0-3 ahead after successful frees from Eoin Cleary and David Tubridy.
An injection of pace from Seamus Lavin set up James Conlon to pull one back, but another huge point from over 45 metres from Cian O'Dea restored Clare's two-point cushion.
A brace of converted frees from Newman, the first of which resulted from a foul by Malone which should have earned the Corofin man a black card instead of a yellow and the second when Kevin Harnett was lucky to only pick up yellow for an off-the-ball clash with Conlon, drew Meath level for the fourth time.
Tubridy and Thomas McGovern traded scores in the 24th minute to maintain parity, but a foul by McGill on Tubridy gifted the Doonbeg full-forward a tap over free to give Clare a 0-8 to 0-7 cushion.
Great pressure by Newman forced Stephen Ryan to concede a '45' and Gavin McCoy's quick kick helped set up Conlon for the sixth equaliser, 0-8 each.
Newman blasted a goal chance over the bar in the 29th minute to give Meath the lead for the first time since the fifth minute, but again Clare responded impressively with two massive points from Malone, who was fortunate to be still on the field, making it 0-10 to 0-9.
As the two minutes of injury-time were announced Harnan released Donal Keogan who dummied Ryan, but saw his shot was cleared off the line by Harnett. However Harnett's clearance dropped at the feet of Bryan Menton and he made no muistake from close range to give Meath a two-point lead.
Clare's reply was impressive again. Corner-back Gordon Kelly struck a point a minute later and on the stroke of half-time another magnificent score from Malone ensured parity at the break, 0-12 to 1-9.
Within 90 seconds of the restart Newman edged Meath ahead from a free and a minute later Conlon gave them a two-point lead for just the second time, but Clare weren't going away.
In the 40th minute Cian O'Dea's high centre caused confusion for Shane Gallagher and Andy Colgan and allowed Gavin Cooney rise to knock the ball to the net, but Meath's response was swift and emphatic.
Outstanding pace from Gavin McCoy set Meath on the attack where Harnan and Newman linked up with the Kilmainham man risking life and limb to reach Harnan's centre and palm to the net.
Newman's collision with the post left him with a cut head and a sore knee and forced him out of the action, but Meath pulled four clear with Keogan and Devine on target.
Clare were rattled and Tubridy missed an easy free, but after taking 15 minutes to get their first point of the second period they closed to within two again with O'Connor and Tubridy on target.
After Shane Walsh, who made his first appearance for Meath, and Cleary traded frees Meath wasted a coupleof gilt-edged goal chances with Harnan hitting the side netting and Ben Brennan and McMahon being closed down after Conlon's effort had hit the upright.
Despite those couple of lost opportunities Cillian O'Sullivan pointed to make it 2-15 to 1-15 with just three minutes remaining.
Tubridy kept Clare's hopes alive with a point a minute later, but Brennan settled Meath nevers with an excellent score.
As the six minutes of injury-time were announced Clare went for goals, but with Menton tying up Brennan on the edge of the square and McGill producing heroics they restricted the Banner men to late points from Tubridy (free) and Coughlan aas Meath held on to march on to the Super 8s and an opening round clash with Donegal in Ballybofey next Sunday.
Meath – Mickey Newman 1-6 five frees; Bryan Menton 1-0; James Conlon 0-3; Bryan McMahon 0-1; Thomas McGovern 0-1; Donal Keogan 0-1; Ethan Devine 0-1; Shane Walsh 0-1 free; Cillian O'Sullivan 0-1; Ben Brennan 0-1.
Clare – David Tubridy 0-6 three frees; Jamie Malone 0-4; Gavin Cooney 1-0; Eoin Cleary 0-2 frees; Cathal O'Connor 0-2; Gary Brennan 0-1; Cian O'Dea 0-1; Gordon Kelly 0-1; Dermot Coughlan 0-1.
Meath – Andy Colgan; Seamus Lavin, Conor McGill, Shane Gallagher; Donal Keogan, Padraic Harnan, Gavin McCoy; Bryan Menton, Shane McEntee; Ethan Devine, Bryan McMahon, Thomas McGovern; Cillian O'Sullivan, Mickey Newman, James Conlon. Subs – Thomas O'Reilly for Newman 42 mins (blood sub), Graham Reilly for McGovern 44m, Shane Walsh for O'Reilly 53m, Sean Curran for Gallagher 60m, Ben Brennan for Devine 62m, Sean Tobin for Conlon 71m. Black card - B McMahon (T O'Reilly 74m).
Clare - Stephen Ryan; Gordon Kelly, Cillian Brennan, Dean Ryan; Sean Collins, aaron Fitzgerald, Kevin Harnett; Gary Brennan, Cathal O'Connor; Sean O'Donoghue, Eoin Cleary, Jamie Malone; Gavin Cooney, David Tubridy, Cian O'Dea. Subs – Kieran Malone for O'Donoghue 46 mins, Dermot Coughlan for Cooney 53m, Gearoid O'Brien for D Ryan 64m, Eimhin Courtney for Cleary 71m. Black card – G Kelly (replaced by Einne O'Connor 62m ).
Referee – Derek O'Mahoney (Tipperary).