Round 3A Qualifier: Donegal edge thriller
All Ireland SFC Qualifier Round 3A
DONEGAL 1-15 MEATH 1-14
By Paul Keane at Pairc Tailteann, Navan
Paddy McBreaty emerged as Donegal's last action hero in Navan with the 73rd minute point that settled a thrilling All-Ireland SFC Round 3A qualifier.
The game hung in the balance with just seconds left when the experienced corner-forward fired over from long range to finally shake determined Meath off.
The sides had been level six times throughout the second-half and 11 times in total and extra-time seemed a certainty.
But McBrearty had other ideas, bringing his tally to 0-7 for the evening with that crucial score.
Michael Murphy fired five points also while Ryan McHugh hit the 61st minute goal that, at the time, looked like it might be the decisive score.
Meath hit back with their own goal from Cillian O'Sullivan almost immediately and the sides were level two more times after that before McBrearty took centre stage.
The win means Donegal will advance to Round 4A to play Cork or the beaten Connacht finalists in a fortnight.
Meath were noticeably more defensive than usual against Sligo last Saturday night and continued with a counter attacking policy in front of a large home crowd.
Donegal went with a similar game plan, dropping talisman Murphy out of the full-forward line to shore up the middle third.
It meant that scores were hard to come by though there were some exciting moments when both sides burst out of defence at pace.
Meath improved on this aspect of their play from seven days earlier and punished Donegal on two significant occasions approaching half-time.
The visitors had forged 0-7 to 0-5 ahead and sought to extend their lead to five when Eoghan Ban Gallagher and Eoin McHugh raced through on goal in the 33rd minute.
But Gallagher's final pass for McHugh was intercepted by full-back Conor McGill and Meath broke free to score a point through Donal Keogan.
A similar scenario occurred in injury-time when Hugh McFadden had a goal ruled out for a square ball offence and Meath responded with a surging attack that earned a free and a point for Donal Lenihan.
That was Lenihan's third converted free of the half and left the sides tied at 0-7 apiece at half-time when Donegal should have been at least three clear.
Former All-Ireland winning captain Murphy scored two tremendous first-half points for Donegal, the second of which put Donegal ahead for the first-time in the 26th minute when he kicked long over Meath's massed defence.
McBrearty helped himself to three first-half scores and nipped in expertly for a 30th minute point when Ruairi O Coileain was robbed in the Meath defence.
Michael Newman came in for Meath at half-time having scored two crucial late points against Sligo in what his first action of the year following ankle trouble.
He had a limited impact though Meath remained right in the game with points from Lenihan, Shane McEntee and James McEntee keeping the game perched in the balance.
McHugh finished off a great passing move with a palmed finish for Donegal's goal though O'Sullivan responded immediately for Meath when he bundled the ball over the line at the other end.
It looked all set for extra-time in a tit-for-tat encounter that went right to the wire but McBrearty showed all his experience and quality to nail the winner from all of 45 metres out.
Scorers for Donegal: Patrick McBrearty 0-7 (3fs), Michael Murphy 0-5 (2fs), Ryan McHugh 1-0, Jason McGee 0-2, Frank McGlynn 0-1.
Scorers for Meath: Donal Lenihan 0-7 (7fs), Cillian O'Sullivan 1-1, Graham Reilly 0-1, Ruairi O Coileain 0-1, Donal Keogan 0-1, Shane McEntee 0-1, James McEntee 0-1, Bryan Menton 0-1.
DONEGAL: Mark Anthony McGinley; Caolan Ward, Neil McGee, Kieran Gillespie; Paddy McGrath, Ryan McHugh, Frank McGlynn; Jason McGee, Michael Murphy; Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Ciaran Thompson, Eoin McHugh; Martin O'Reilly, Hugh McFadden, Paddy McBrearty.
Subs: Martin McElhinney for Thompson (43), Jamie Brennan for McFadden (48), Karl Lacey for O'Reilly (58), Mark McHugh for McGlynn (60).
MEATH: Paddy O'Rourke; Donal Keogan, Conor McGill, Mickey Burke; Pauric Harnan, Brian Power, Shane McEntee; Bryan Menton, Brian Conlon; Ruairi O Coileain, James McEntee, Graham Reilly; Sean Tobin, Cillian O'Sullivan, Donal Lenihan.
Subs: Michael Newman for Sean Tobin (h/t), Donnacha Tobin for S McEntee (61), Eamon Wallace for O'Sullivan (67, black card).
REFEREE: Derek O'Mahoney (Tipperary).