Ulster 2-16 Connacht 3-10
By Daragh Small
After just 500 supporters showed up to see Ulster win a 32nd inter-provincial championship, manager Pete McGrath called for the competition to be moved to the most high profile GAA week of the year.
The Fermanagh boss insisted that the competition needed a boost and said running it off in Dublin on All-Ireland football final weekend could well be the solution.
Goals from Aiden Breen and Charlie Vernon were the crucial scores for Ulster, who had conceded three goals before half-time to a slick Connacht outfit.
But McGrath suggested the GAA could do justice to the traditional event by switching it from an end of year procession to a key part of the GAA calendar.
“It probably is (a bad time of the year). If it could be played some time, we are talking about maybe All-Ireland weekend, there is no club activity on that weekend,” said McGrath.
“You wouldn’t have the All-Ireland finalists needless to say, but you would have all the other top inter-county players. Play the semi-finals in Dublin, Parnell Park on a Friday, final on the Saturday, All-Ireland weekend.
“You have a captivated audience, and players at that time of the year are in great shape. Because if they are out of the inter-county their club season is still going on. You would still have that enthusiasm and that’s a possibility well worth looking at.”
Vernon and Breen were the goal scorers for Ulster, but they also weighed in with some excellent points at key moments. Breen, the Fermanagh wing-back was particularly adept at roaming forward and he ended the hour as Ulster joint top scorer.
But Connacht had started so brightly it looked likely that they would emerge as winners. The benefitted from some loose defensive work from Ulster in the eighth and 11th minutes as Niall Murphy send Ciaran Murtagh in for to goals, while a third major in the minutes approaching half-time ensured that Connacht led by 3-6 to 1-10 at the interval.
“We were very porous in the first ten or 15 minutes. Every time Connacht attacked they opened us up. They were firing over points, they got two goals they could have got another goal,” said McGrath.
“We began to find our groove, found our own combination, found our own levels of energy. Taking people into the match to provide impetus and energy also had an impact.
“As the game wore on we got better. The early start certainly was very worrying given the fact that they were getting through with great ease and they had got three goals.”
But a constant trend right throughout the game was Peter Harte’s consistent free taking and he kept his side in touch, while Derry’s Enda Lynn and Fermanagh’s Tomás Corrigan also weighed in with some fine efforts from play.
In the end Ulster were so strong in the second-half – despite Chrissy McKaigue’s black card 70 seconds after his introduction – it was a surprise that they didn’t win by a bigger margin, but a 32nd inter-pro title was full deserved.
Charlie Vernon scored the vital goal as Ulster gained revenge for their 2014 GAA Inter-Provincial Championship defeat to get the better of Connacht at Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada.
Storm Desmond forced the cancellation of last year’s competition but Connacht won the 2014 final when they beat Ulster at Tuam.
But this time around goals from Vernon and Aidan Breen helped Ulster to ease clear in the second-half.
Connacht were in control of the game – Ciarain Murtagh scored two goals and Damien Comer added a third in the first-half as they led by 3-6 to 1-10 at half-time.
Derry defender Chrissy McKaigue got a black card at the start of the second-half, but Ulster had too much fire-power on their bench and they claimed their 32nd inter-provincial crown.
Connacht were 3-6 to 1-10 in front at half-time after a brilliant attacking display before the break.
And their defence coped brilliantly too, and outside of the pin-point free-taking of Peter Harte, Ulster were bereft of opportunities.
Wing-back Breen found the net but that was cancelled out by two Ciarain Murtagh strikes and one from Comer.
Connacht were impressive in their 2-17 to 1-18 semi-final win against Leinster and they began well again here.
Early points from Ciarain Murtagh and Danny Cummins put them on track, while Harte got Ulster going in the fifth minute.
But Murtagh scored his first goal in the eighth minute after a pass from Niall Murphy. And the same two combined three minutes later as Murtagh gave Connacht a 2-3 to 0-3 lead.
But Ulster hung in the game and Fermanagh defender Breen scored their goal in the 18th minute.
Tomas Corrigan had Ulster back within a point in the 26th minute, but Comer scored Connacht’s third goal and they led 3-6 to 1-10 at half-time.
Despite Chrissy McKaigue’s black at the start of the second-half, just one minute after his introduction, Ulster took control of the match.
Harte kicked a point, and even though Ciarain Murtagh and Enda Smith added points for Connacht, Charlie Vernon’s 39th minute goal and further points from Vernon, Harte and Breen sealed the win.
Ulster: P Harte 0-5 (0-4f), A Been 1-2, C Vernon 1-1, T Corrigan 0-4 (0-2f), E Lynn 0-3, S Campbell 0-1.
Connacht: C Murtagh 2-3 (0-1f), D Comer 1-1, J Doherty 0-2 (0-2f), D Cummins 0-1, E Smith 0-1, P Conroy 0-1 (0-1f), E Mulligan 0-1 (0-1f).
Ulster: N Morgan (Tyrone); M Jones (Fermanagh), K Clare (Cavan), D O’Hagan (Down); T McCann (Tyrone), C Moynagh (Cavan), A Breen (Fermanagh); E Donnelly (Fermanagh), C Vernon (Armagh); K Niblock (Antrim), P Harte (Tyrone), E Lynn (Derry); N Sludden (Tyrone), S Campbell (Armagh), T Corrigan (Fermanagh).
Subs: R Johnston (Down) for Niblock (28), C McKaigue (Derry) for Moynagh (30), B Rogers (Derry) for McKaigue (33, black), D McCusker (Fermanagh) for Clarke (38), M Donnelly (Tyrone) for Campbell (44), T Kernan (Armagh) for Vernon (55).
Connacht: D Clarke (Mayo); K McDonnell (Sligo), J Duane (Galway), D Wynne (Galway); N Daly (Roscommon), G O’Donnell (Galway), J Heaney (Galway); E Smith (Roscommon), K Higgins (Roscommon); F Cregg (Roscommon), D Cummins (Galway), C Murtagh; N Murphy (Sligo), D Comer (Galway), J Doherty (Mayo).
Subs: P Conroy (Galway) for Cummins (12), D Wrynn (Leitrim) for Higgins (44), G Bradshaw for Doherty (49), E Mulligan (Leitrim) for Conroy (52), J McManus (Roscommon) for McDonnell (53), D Murtagh (Roscommon) for Murphy (57), C O’Shea for Smith (59).
Referee: Padraig O’Sullivan (Kerry).