The Northerners overcame a debilitating start when Munster pounced for two early goals, to ensure a competitive contest. Those early strikes hampered their progress, the first one was especially embarrassing as Eoin Kelly’s third minute ‘65 skidded on the surface before flying to the net. The second goal in the 12th minute was a beauty though, with Seamus Callanan whipping a blistering drive home.
But thereon, Ulster were highly competitive, with defenders Aaron Graffin and Neil McGarry immense in shutting out the Munster attack and Down attacker Paul Braniff showcasing his scoring talents. At one stage, Ulster had the margin down to one, trailing 2-8 to 1-10 by the 48th minute. That came after they had registered 1-4 without reply, Braniff striking three points and Antrim’s Shane McNaughton pulling a loose ball to the net in the 45th minute.
Yet there was always a sense that Munster would steam ahead in this one. In the finale they simply opened their shoulders and attuned their shooting. Brian O’Connell, who a fine game at midfield throughout, grabbed two points and his Clare teammate Tony Carmody atoned for earlier misses with a pair of scores as well.
With Tipperary’s Paul Kelly impressing when coming on as a substitute, Munster rattled over six points in the last 10 minutes. Another final place secured then and manager Len Gaynor was pleased.
“We’re very pleased to get through. Ulster played very well, but we got vital scores to see us over line. The first goal was lucky but the second goal was a great goal by Seamus. They were hard blows to Ulster but they turned around to play very well in the second half.”
His Ulster counterpart Dominic McKinley was proud of his charges “We conceded two very bad goals but the lads played very well after that. They kept at it whereas other Ulster teams might have went away from it. Near the end we were a bit unlucky, but it was a good, free-flowing game.”
On the broader issue of the future of the competition, both managers accepted the prospects are not bright.
“The players want to play, they’re delighted to play for their province and are honoured to be asked to play,” said Gaynor. “The public haven’t much interest in it. Hopefully the final next week under lights in Portlaoise might draw a reasonable crowd. It is a great opportunity for players as they’re not under serious pressure like they would be with their counties, so they can display their talents.
“It’s hard to know if it has a future. It’s hard to keep it going if the public don’t come to see it. Joe Kernan’s suggestion about playing it on St Patrick’s Day might be worthwhile. Everything is against it but hopefully it’ll survive.”
McKinley was more forthright in his views, insisting the GAA authorities need to do more.
“The GAA need to decide whether they want this competition or not. The GAA is an amateur organisation yet they talk about not keeping it going because it’s not making money and that they lost money last year. They’re away playing Australian Rules and they’re playing shinty, but they’re different games. They’ve nothing to do with the GAA. They’re supposed to be promoting their own games. It should stay but only if it’s played in the right time and in the right place.”
Scorers for Munster: E Kelly 1-5 (1-1 ‘65, 0-4f), S Callanan 1-2, T Carmody, B O’Connell 0-2 each, N Gilligan, C Naughton, P Kelly 0-1 each.
Scorers for Ulster: P Braniff 0-8 (0-6f, 0-1 ‘65), S McNaughton 1-0, K Stewart, K Hinphey, K McKeegan, P Shields 0-1 each.
MUNSTER: B Cummins (Tipperary); C O’Brien (Tipperary), P Curran (Tipperary), S Hickey (Limerick); B Bugler (Clare), G Quinn (Clare), D Fanning (Tipperary); B O’Connell (Clare), T Kenny (Cork); T Carmody (Clare), S Callanan (Tipperary), C Naughton (Cork); A O’Shaughnessy (Limerick), E Kelly (Waterford), N Gilligan (Clare).
Subs: B O’Connor (Cork) for Gilligan (inj) 25, P Kelly (Tipperary) for Naughton 47, B Corry (Cork) for Callanan 55, D O’Grady (Limerick) for O’Connell 60.
ULSTER: R McGarry (Antrim); A Graffin (Antrim), N McGarry (Antrim), M Kettle (Antrim); G Clarke (Down), L Hinphey (Derry), J Campbell (Antrim); A Savage (Down), K McKeegan (Antrim); K Stewart (Antrim), K Hinphey (Derry), P Braniff (Down); S McNaughton (Antrim), B McGourty (Down), P Shields (Antrim).
Subs: N McManus (Antrim) for Kettle 15, P McCormack (Armagh) for McGourty 36, M Craig (Derry) for McKeegan 48.
Referee: Anthony Stapleton (Laois)