Donegall boss Bonner left with plenty to ponder as Meath showdown looms
Donegal manager Declan Bonner was certainly left with plenty of food for thought after taking in yesterday's frenetic All-Ireland Round Four qualifier in which Meath just squeezed out Clare by 2-16 to 1-18
The sides were level on no fewer than eight occasions in what was a tough, uncompromising tussle at Portlaoise and Bonner was left in no doubt that his side could now face a demanding engagement in the first series of Super 8 matches next Sunday in Ballybofey.
Meath full-forward Michael Newman scored 0-5 in the first-half as his team compiled 1-9 with Bryan Menton snapping up their goal while Clare totted up 0-12 in response.
Newman was subsequently forced to retire injured after scoring his team's second goal and with Gary Brennan and Cathal O'Connor superb at midfield, Clare battled grimly throughout the second half.
Jamie Malone and David Tubridy were to the fore in tacking up more scores for the Banner county but as the match ebbed into five minutes of injury-time Meath just managed to hold on and win by a point to become the last side to join the Super 8s line-up.
Donegal will be more than happy to have home advantage against a Meath side that picked up injuries in yesterday's match which could present problems for manager Andy McEntee in the build-up to their trip to the north west. In winning back to back Ulster titles Donegal showed they are capable of taking on the big guns, and while Meath on current form could not be considered to be in this category, they nevertheless have a proud tradition in the championship.
Meanwhile, the Mayo championship bandwagon just keeps rolling relentlessly along. It has now become almost custom and practice for James Horan's side to make life difficult for themselves and true to form they diced briefly with danger before overcoming arch rivals Galway by 2-13 to 1-13.
When James Carr had assured himself of a generous share of the headlines by scoring two goals which gave his side a handsome 2-7 to 0-7 lead, it looked as if the perennial All-Ireland nearly men would romp to a handsome win.
But Galway had other ideas and with Shane Walsh in sparkling form, they reined in their neighbours before Ian Burke slammed in a late goal that triggered palpitations within the long-suffering Mayo faithful.
But with Cillian O'Connor (0-6) and Darren Coen (0-3) supplementing Carr's handsome donation to the cause, Mayo managed to get over the line and into the Super 8s for the first time.
Cork, too, are in the final shake-up for 'Sam' after an emphatic 4-20 to1-15 win over Laois. The Rebels have been blowing hot and cold lately but in this game they looked a more cohesive and convincing side.
Brian Hurley and Mark Collins combined to plunder the lion's share of their team's scores with Hurley hitting 2-4 and Collins helping himself to 1-8.
Veteran Paul Kerrigan showed that he still has pace and hunger in abundance by crashing in a goal and generally troubling the Laois defence.
Laois showed flashes of defiance with long-serving Donie Kingston leading their resistance by scoring 10 points, seven of which came from frees.
Cork will now be in the last eight of the All-Ireland race for the first time in five years but they will need no reminding that much tougher obstacles lie ahead beginning with next Saturday's difficult assignment against Dublin.
Their manager Ronan McCarthy is hopeful they can now gain further status in the Super 8s.
"Elements of our play were scintillating," said McCarthy. "We were never in danger, but the message that we've been giving the team throughout the year is that you keep doing the right things no matter what the score is."
All-Ireland Super 8s
Group One: Kerry, Donegal, Mayo, Meath.
Saturday July 13/Sunday July 14: Donegal v Meath (Ballybofey); Kerry v Mayo (Killarney).
Sat July 20/ Sun 21: Kerry v Donegal (Croke Park); Mayo v Meath (Croke Park).
Sat Aug 3/Sun Aug 4: Mayo v Donegal (Castlebar); Meath v Kerry (Navan).
Group Two: Dublin, Roscommon, Cork, Tyrone.
Sat July 13/Sun July 14: Dublin v Cork (Croke Park); Roscommon v Tyrone (Dr Hyde Park, Roscommon).
Sat July 20/Sun July 21: Dublin v Roscommon (Croke Park); Cork v Tyrone (Croke Park).
Sat Aug 3/Sun Aug 4: Cork v Roscommon (Cork); Tyrone v Dublin (Omagh).