Allianz NFL D1: Dublin master battling Meath
Allianz National Football League, Division 1, Round 6
DUBLIN 1-20 MEATH 0-19
By Paul Keane at Parnell Park, Dublin
Dean Rock made a little piece of personal history with 1-8 at Parnell Park as Dublin returned to Allianz League action with a hard fought win.
The five-in-a-row All-Ireland champions maintained their title challenge with a third win of the campaign at the expense of their neighbours and old rivals.
Rock, fresh from collecting a second Dublin SFC medal with Ballymun Kickhams, played a key role and his haul helped him overcome Jimmy Keaveney as Dublin's all time leading scorer.
The result leaves Dublin a point behind league leaders Kerry heading into next weekend's final Division 1 game away to Galway.
This was a real test on the five-in-a-row All-Ireland champions' return to competitive action as Meath, already relegated after five defeats, were competitive for long spells.
Dublin got a terrific start when they were gifted an early goal and moved six points clear but Meath brought it back to a one-point game.
Dublin's craft, conditioning and quality all ultimately combined to elevate them to the anticipated win with Ciaran Kilkenny and Con O'Callaghan weighing in with four points each.
Meath were already relegated after five consecutive defeats in spring and looked all set for another night of misery after a horror start.
Shane Walsh did open the scoring for the Royals but Dublin responded with an unanswered 1-4 by the 10th minute to hint at a rout.
Con O'Callaghan grabbed their first point and then Rock swooped for Dublin's goal after a calamity in the Meath defence.
Goalkeeper Marcus Brennan's short kick-out was intercepted by Paddy Small who played in Ballymun clubmate Rock for an easy tap in.
Rock and Kilkenny added points and suddenly Meath were staring down the barrel of a six-point deficit and a long evening.
But in what amounted to an impressive comeback it was only that goal that separated the teams at half-time when Dublin led 1-10 to 0-10.
With debutants Eoin Harkin from the Dunsany club and Cathal Hickey in Meath's full-back line they could have wilted.
But Harkin in particular relished the opportunity to bomb forward and kicked his first point for Meath in the 25th minute.
Joint captain Donal Keogan caused Dublin's defence real trouble with his probing runs too and Thomas O'Reilly proved a reliable free-taker.
Dublin still oozed class when they attacked and Small kicked one beauty but they would have expected to be further clear.
Meath capitalised on their momentum with a strong start to the second-half to reduce the gap to just one with 20 minutes to go.
It was heartening for Meath who refused to throw in the towel and they'll travel to Monaghan next Sunday hopeful of collecting a first win of the campaign.
They ran out of steam though as Dublin finished strong with Rock, O'Callaghan and Kilkenny all tacking on further points for the hosts.
Dublin took the opportunity to run in subs like Aaron Byrne and Sean Bugler as the game wore on.
Meath lightened their bench too with Jordan Morris, Brian Conlon and James Conlon all coming on and getting on the scoresheet.
Dublin scorers: Dean Rock 1-8 (0-5f), Con O'Callaghan 0-4, Ciaran Kilkenny 0-4 (0-1m), Paddy Small 0-2, Brian Fenton 0-2.
Meath scorers: Thomas O'Reilly 0-6 (0-6f), Shane Walsh 0-4, Cillian O'Sullivan 0-3 (0-2f), Jordan Morris 0-2, Bryan Menton 0-1, Eoin Harkin 0-1, Brian Conlon 0-1, James Conlon 0-1.
DUBLIN: Stephen Cluxton; Cian Murphy, David Byrne, Michael Fitzsimons; John Small, Jonny Cooper, Robbie McDaid; Brian Fenton, Emmet O Conghaile; Niall Scully, Ciaran Kilkenny, Eric Lowndes; Paddy Small, Con O'Callaghan, Dean Rock. Subs: Eoin Murchan for Cooper 11, Brian Howard for O Conghaile 48, Cian O'Sullivan for J Small 54, Aaron Byrne for P Small 63, Sean Bugler for Lowndes 70.
MEATH: Marcus Brennan; Cathal Hickey, James McEntee, Eoin Harkin; Donal Keogan, Gavin McCoy, Shane McEntee; Bryan Menton, Ronan Jones; James McEntee, Jason Scully, Ethan Devine; Thomas O'Reilly, Cillian O'Sullivan, Shane Walsh. Subs: Jordan Morris for Devine 30, Brian Conlon for McCoy 35, James Conlon for Walsh 61, Donal Lenihan for O'Reilly 66.
Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare).