Kildare eased through to their first Leinster final in eight years courtesy of a superb 2-16 to 0-13 victory over Meath in the Tullamore sunshine.
It was men against boys for the most part in a surprisingly one-sided affair, watched by 12,702 sun-bathed spectators at O'Connor Park, with Cathal McNally (1-3) and Daniel Flynn (1-4) netting in either half for the victors, who never looked troubled. Kevin Feely (0-5) and Paddy Brophy also impressed, as did centre back Eoin Doyle.
The well-conditioned Lilywhites won at their ease but will have to improve their shooting if they're to secure the provincial title next month, while this game came as a sobering reality check for the losers, who beat Louth last time out but weren't at the races at all today and go meekly into the bowl for Monday morning's 2A Qualifier draw, where they'll be pitted against either Longford, Laois, Derry or Sligo. All four of those teams would fancy their chances against this Meath outfit.
This evening's winners delivered an immense first-half exhibition of energy and verve, on top in every sector of the field, and it was all over bar the shouting when Brophy nonchalantly whipped over an injury-time point to give the Short Grass County contingent a commanding 1-10 to 0-4 interval lead. They would still lead by nine when the long whistle sounded…
Physically stronger, sharper and more tuned into the task at hand, Cian O'Neill's athletic, purposeful, focussed charges lorded the opening quarter to steam into a six-point lead, 1-5 to 0-2, with McNally notching 1-3 of that opening salvo.
James Toher wasn't hanging around as he kicked the Royals ahead for the only time inside 14 seconds but McNally replied with a brace in the fourth and fifth minutes as the game got off to a frantic start. Shane McEntee fisted Meath's second point - his first-ever championship score - in the tenth minute, with the action flowing breathlessly from end to end.
Kildare, who kicked ten first-half wides, now took total control. Daniel Flynn fired the Lilywhites ahead for the second time and McNally got in behind the Meath defence to plant the ball into Paddy O'Rourke's net and increase the gap to four in the 13th minute. Feely tagged on a free and McNally bagged his third point before Donal Lenihan pulled back a rare Royal County score in the 22nd minute.
Brophy - a late addition to the starting XV in place of Paul Cribbin - had the margin back to six with ten minutes left in the first half. Once slick midfielder Feely lofted over another Kildare point on the half-hour, there was a real sense of inevitability in the red-hot midlands air. When Lenihan hit back quickly with a superb point, Flynn again replied in double-quick time to leave seven between the teams.
Kildare should have had a second goal just before the break but had to be happy with a pointed Feely free and Brophy tagged on the last score of a one-sided opening period late on as the Lilywhites led whilst pulling away.
Upon the resumption, Lenihan's third fantastic score of the game reduced the nine-point interval deficit and the Dunboyne man followed up quickly with a free as Meath moved within seven points with 37 minutes played. Half-time substitute Ruairi O'Coileain grabbed a brace of left-footed points as the Royals closed within five points of their opponents after six second-half minutes, 1-10 to 0-8.
Comeback on? No.
Feely's free roused Kildare from the fleeting wobble and Flynn arrowed over his third of the night to stretch the winners' lead out to seven once more with ten minutes gone in the second half. As is their wont, Meath refused to roll over without some kind of fight and it was midfielder Bryan Menton's turn to register a brace, leaving five points separating the sides again with 20 minutes left to play in the glorious sunshine.
Alas, Kildare were a cut above and it showed more and more as the match progressed.
Feely (free) steered over his fifth point, a score which left Andy McEntee's men facing into a six-point deficit going into the last quarter of an energy-sapping encounter. With 15 minutes left, O'Coilean missed a free won by substitute Brian Conlon. Meath needed to be taking those scores and their supporters were left further frustrated when sub Thomas O'Reilly also missed the target, as did another replacement, Eamonn Callaghan, at the other end.
But Flynn and Callaghan points confirmed without any doubt that the Lilywhites would be the first team through to this year's Leinster final, while an O'Coileain consolation score at the other end barely raised a cheer. David Slattery accelerated through a non-existent Meath defence to pick out Flynn, who palmed to the net for Kildare's second goal four minutes from the end as the emphatic victors surged ten clear.
A late Lenihan free offered scant consolation to Meath, who go into the Qualifiers red-faced and surely riddled with self-doubt. Veteran campaigner Mickey Burke replied to a free from substitute Neil Flynn to close out the scoring as the very impressive Lilywhites progressed to the provincial decider against either Dublin or Westmeath, while the sub-par Royals crashed hopelessly into last-chance saloon.
Kildare - M Donnellan; M O'Grady, O Lyons, D Hyland; K Cribbin, E Doyle, J Byrne; K Feely (0-5, 4f), T Moolick; F Conway, N Kelly, D Slattery; C McNally (1-3), D Flynn (1-4), P Brophy (0-2). Subs: E Callaghan (0-1) for P Brophy, F Dowling for T Moolick, C Healy for C McNally, P Kelly for D Hyland, N Flynn (0-1f) for J Byrne, E Bolton for E Doyle.
Meath - P O'Rourke; M Burke (0-1), C McGill, D Tobin; P Harnan, D Keogan, S McEntee (0-1); B Menton (0-2), R Jones; J Toher (0-1), C O'Sullivan, E Wallace; G Reilly, B McMahon, D Lenihan (0-5, 2f). Subs: J McEntee for J Toher, R O Coileain (0-3) for E Wallace, B Conlon for R Jones, T O'Reilly for B McMahon, S Tobin for G Reilly, A Douglas for C O'Sullivan.
Referee - J McQuillan.