McBrearty winner Donegal's just reward - Gallagher
Meath 1-14 Donegal 1-15
Donegal manager Rory Gallagher believes his young team are making up for inexperience with character.
An absorbing gripping and pulsating qualifier was poised on a knife edge on Saturday evening in Navan before Patrick McBrearty sliced the match-winning cut with his seventh point.
The teams were level 11 times in all during a cracking contest that was only decided when McBrearty arrowed over from 45 metres.
"Patrick has played for Donegal for a long time and when we needed him here, he stood up and showed the quality player he is, because he was being tightly marked," Gallagher said.
"Patrick is football mad. I know him now for seven or eight years. He just lives for football.
"He had to do two pre-seasons but he got himself into good shape. He has worked exceptionally hard. When Patrick is playing football he is happy and he showed great leadership."
With that final swing of McBrearty's deadly left boot, Donegal booked a place in Round 4A of the qualifiers where they'll meet beaten Connacht finalists, Galway, in two weeks' time.
Following a nine-point hammering at the hands of Tyrone in an Ulster semi-final, Donegal got back to winning ways with an unconvincing success against Longford. And they were put to the pin of their collar at Pairc Tailteann before they managed to dethrone the Royals.
Gallagher said: "Our morale has been good. We have a real good team spirit. Look, it's been difficult when you lose. We have been accustomed to being in Ulster finals.
"We were always aware that was going to be difficult to beat Tyrone given the level of inexperience we have, but we shown a lot of character. We haven't played the best football; we have been edgy at times and we need to sharpen up in front of goal."
Nine minutes from the end, Ryan McHugh palmed in a trademark after latching onto Eoghan Ban Gallagher's pass. It put Donegal three up, but was wiped out when Cillian O'Sullivan netted at the other end after Mark Anthony McGinley thwarted Pauric Harnan.
Meath were momentarily in front when Brian Menton arched over, but Michael Murphy and McBrearty swung the pendulum once more only for Donal Lenihan to tie it up for the 11th time.
Just when extra time was looming in a baking arena, McBrearty conjoured up his moment of magic.
Gallagher added: "We have a very inexperienced group of players. I think at times we showed a lack of maturity. We are in a better position today than we were three weeks ago. We're showing that we are really competitive.
"We have played 11 games this year and only lost three. We are not the finished article, far from it. But if we took our chances, we would make life easier for ourselves."
The teams were level 0-7 apiece at half-time when Donegal were incensed at a disallowed Hugh McFadden goal just before the break.
McFadden finished after Murphy and McHugh did the spadework but the effort was chalked off for a square ball infringement.
Murphy alternated between centre-field and the edge of the square and his prints were all over this one as he kicked five points in another influential display, while McHugh was showing that he's back to his best again.
Meath hit the front on several occasions during a breathless second half, but Donegal did just enough to move one step closer to Croke Park.
Gallagher said: "It's the hand we are dealt. The games are coming thick and fast. It is all about getting over the line. We have two weeks now to get ready and go again."
Donegal: MA McGinley; C Ward, N McGee, K Gillespie; P McGrath, R McHugh (1-0), F McGlynn (0-1); J McGee (0-2), M Murphy (0-5, 0-2f); E Gallagher, C Thompson, E McHugh; M O'Reilly, H McFadden, P McBrearty (0-7, 0-3f). Subs: M McElhinney for Thompson (43), J Brennan for McFadden (48), K Lacey for O'Reilly (58), M McHugh for McGlynn (60).
Meath: P O'Rourke; D Keogan (0-1), C McGill, M Burke; P Harnan, B Power, S McEntee (0-1); B Menton (0-1), B Conlon; R O Coileain (0-1), J McEntee (0-1), G Reilly (0-1); S Tobin, C O'Sullivan (1-1), D Lenihan (0-7, 0-7f). Subs: M Newman for Tobin (h/t), D Tobin for McEntee (61), E Wallace for O'Sullivan (bc, 67).
Referee: Derek O'Mahoney (Tipperary).