Derry broke out of the gate quickly, getting the break they needed when a second-minute penalty was awarded by referee Dave Ryan. Anthony Lillis coolly picked his spot and the upset was in the making.
Derry followed with two good points while Meath struggled to find the form that has seen them dominate this division all year long. Meath were playing some silly, wasteful football, prompted perhaps by a very physical Derry side.
The Ulster men took every opportunity to put a body on their opponents and that tactic may have unnerved the previously unflappable Royals. Meath management responded to their charges difficult start with several changes, most prominently bringing Shane McInerney out to center forward, his usual position, from the full forward spot.
Meath hoped to get the dangerous McInerney more involved in the action, but aside from the occasional flurry of activity, it was just not his day. McInerney was even off target from frees, missing all of his chances before finally finding the range in the game’s final moments. Meath eventually made the breakthrough with a 14th minute point from Barry Newman.
Meath managed only one more point in the opening stanza and when Derry’s attacking wingback Liam Byrne struck for a goal just before the halfway horn Meath’s perfect record was in real jeopardy.
Meath were being frustrated by a powerful midfield performance from Joe Diver and Ruari O’Neill as well as an uncompromising job by Tom Harkin at center back. The niceties were sometimes ignored but the effectiveness of Derry’s approach was there to be seen in the scoreboard.
Meath shuffled the lineup again at the restart adding Mike Rennicks and Dave Dunne but they could only reduce the arrears by two points in a low scoring second half. Two points from Sean Holman and one from Darren Doherty kept the Leinster side at bay as Derry’s defense kept the clamps on the explosive Meath attack.
This match may be the wake-up call that will propel Meath to the Junior championship that looked to be theirs for the taking. Then again, perhaps Derry have exposed Meath as a paper tiger. Only time will tell.
Man of the Match: Tom Harkin.
Derry: Martin O’Connell, Noel McGovern, Mike McCloskey, Gerry Gillespie, Liam Byrne (1-0), Tom Harkin, Kieran Scullion, Ruari O’Neill, Joe Diver, Anthony Lillis (1-0), Darren Doherty (0-2), Gareth Mone, Sean Holman (0-5, 4 frees), Rory McCluskey, Cormac McIntyre. Subs: James McCluskey, Kevin Heany.
Meath: Ciaran Gaughan, Paddy Melligan, Kevin Dunne, Terry Maher, Eoin Loughnane, Jamie Shaw (0-1, free), John McCartin, Cathal Loughnane (0-1, free), John Smith, John Davis (0-2), Paddy O’Brien, Peter Mullen, Barry Newman (0-2), Shane McInerney, Sean Og Travers. Subs: Davy Dunne (0-1), Aiden Kealy, Sean Haher, Stephen Kane, Chris Clarke, Mickey Rennicks.