First-half goals from captain Kevin Brady, Thomas McCann and Ciaran Close at Croke Park ensured a sweet win for Antrim, who lost to Wicklow after an extra-time goal from Tommy Gill last year.
The win was doubly significant as GAA President Nickey Brennan accepted in his programme notes that the Saffron’s success brings “the curtain down on the competition” after five seasons because of widespread apathy.
Holders Wicklow were hoping to go down in history as the only side to ever win the competition twice but trailed by three at half-time, and by the same margin at the final whistle.
Afterwards stand-in Wicklow manager Arthur Ffrench confirmed he and Mick O’Dwyer will “undoubtedly” be back in harness for 2009, with Wicklow eligible for the qualifier system once again.
For his opposite number, Antrim boss Gormley, his thoughts were with the players that engineered a memorable victory — and the half dozen or so, including star men Sean Kelly and CJ McGourty, who opted out of the tournament.
“The competition is good because, for us, it showed us who really wanted to play for Antrim and that’s what we needed,” said Gormley.
“It highlighted the fact that there are a number of players who want to play for the jersey. I think it’s a nonsense guys picking and choosing.
“Fellas need to have pride in their team and in their jersey. These guys who have stayed here and stuck at it have shown pride in their jersey and personal pride so I think that is important.”
Wicklow’s top scorer Tony Hannon hit back-to-back points immediately after the restart to leave the Garden County trailing by just one.
But 0-5 from Michael and Thomas McCann, the latter hitting 0-3, ensured the northerners won with a little to spare and could afford to leak two more late scores to Wicklow goalscorer Seanie Furlong and Hannon.
“The better team won on the day and there’s no GAA man in the country that would begrudge Antrim their win,” said Ffrench.
“One thing’s for sure though, we did very little training for this, we did three sessions, they weren’t even training, just get-togethers and the edge definitely wasn’t there.”
ANTRIM: S McGreevey; C Brady, A McClean, P Conlon; T Scullion, T Convery, K O’Boyle; P Doherty, M McCann (0-4; 2f); J Crozier, P Close, B Hasson (0-2); C Close (1-3), K Brady (1-0), T McCann (1-3; 1 45).
Subs: M Magill for McCann 34-36, Magill for O’Boyle 46, M McCarry for Doherty 52, G Bell for P Close 73.
WICKLOW: M Travers; C Hyland, D Power, A Byrne; R Nolan, D O hAnnaidh, L Glynn (0-3); J Stafford, T Walsh (0-1); J McGrath, T Hannon (0-6; 2f, 1 45), P Earls (0-1); C Walsh (0-2), S Furlong (1-2; 1f), D Daly.
Subs: P Dalton for Byrne h/t, D Hayden for McGrath 62.
Referee: V Neary (Mayo).