In a gripping encounter played in front of a paltry 1,615 crowd in Armagh, Gary Hurney on two occasions and Donncha O’Connor both could have levelled the game but kicked wides.
Hurney’s first effort in the penultimate minute of normal time hit the post and went wide and O’Connor followed suit a minute later. With almost the last kick of the game, Hurney, who had a shot blocked by Pascal McConnell in the 52nd minute, kicked off balance and saw his shot finish wide of the Ulster goalkeeper’s right-hand post by 50 yards.
The Waterford forward, an impressive performer in last year’s series and key to winning frees in yesterday’s game, hung his head knowing the significance of the miss. O’Sullivan, though, wasn’t going to fault him or O’Connor.
“We had a very good few chances in the end but the legs were very tired at that stage,” he said.
“It’s not easy, a lot of these fellas were training with their counties the last number of weeks and they were training with their counties again this week.
“I’m delighted with the response that I got, they love playing the competition. You look at the players from Cork and Kerry, they make two trips each up here to the north later on this year and the first weekend they get off this year they give the commitment to play for Munster.”
Munster’s fight-back was captivating, seeing Cork and Kerry players combine in one-twos to stage a resurgence that saw them go ahead by a point in the 56th minute after trailing by 10 points in the 29th minute.
Having kept Ulster scoreless for 29 minutes and notching up 1-8 without reply, there was part of O’Sullivan that rued his team’s dramatic finish but he felt Ulster earned the win.
“The first half took a lot out of us [Munster trailed 1-11 to 0-6]. We were under fierce pressure in the first half and then we had enough in the tank to come back at them in the second half.
“It was difficult after that. They raised their game again and there was going to be another kick in them. More power to them, they deserved it over the 70 minutes.”
While delighted with the victory, Joe Kernan, in his home county, was saddened by the size of the crowd that turned up.
“I’m disappointed, the people have to support this. You seen two very committed sets of players out there so it’s just a pity more people didn’t turn out. But they can come to Croke Park next week.”
The presence of just one Armagh player in the panel, Ciaran McKeever, may have had some effect on the attractiveness to people in the vicinity of the Athletic Grounds.
However, he certainly made his presence felt here, locking horns once again with Paul Kerrigan after last year’s Armagh-Cork game at the same venue when Kerrigan was red carded and McKeever handed a retrospective ban that was later rescinded. Both were yellow carded for an off-the-ball incident in the first minute of the second half and McKeever later exchanged heated words with manager O’Sullivan.
Noel O’Leary was booked six minutes from time for a foul on McKeever. Then, two minutes later, the Armagh captain was fortunate to stay on the field after pulling back Eoin Cadogan.
Kernan wasn’t happy with Jerome Henry’s officiating, especially with an unacknowledged foul on Mark Poland which could have resulted in a penalty.
“I thought they were harshly treated with some of the decisions, we had a man straight through, tackled from behind and we don’t even get a free.”
After almost 30 minutes of failing to score, it was McKeever who stepped up to equalise in the 58th minute following Aidan Walsh’s second point.
A minute later and, with Tyrone substitute Conor McAliskey making an impact, McKeever added another before Seán Cavanagh extended Ulster’s lead to two with a free that was brought forward for remonstration.
In the 67th minute, Aidan O’Mahony pushed forward to make it a one-point game but there was no score to follow.
For making it a contest when it looked anything but one in the first half, Munster deserve credit. Relying on four Colm O’Neill frees from their first-half total of six, they were struggling especially after Martin Penrose’s ninth minute goal.
However, they revived themselves to creep ahead largely due to a 41st minute Donncha O’Connor penalty goal following a Neil McGee foul on O’Neill.
Scorers for Ulster: S Cavanagh 0-5 (4f); M Penrose 1-1; C McManus 0-4; C McKeever 0-2; E McGee, D Givney 0-1 each.
Scorers for Munster: C O’Neill 0-5 (all frees); D O’Connor 1-0 (pen); A Walsh 0-2; G Collins, G Brennan, M Ó Sé, B O’Driscoll, P Kerrigan, A O’Mahony 0-1 each.
ULSTER: P McConnell (Tyrone); C McKaigue (Derry); N McGee, E McGee (both Donegal); C McCarron (Tyrone), D Hughes (Monaghan), C McKeever (Armagh); S Cavanagh (Tyrone), D Givney (Cavan); M McHugh (Donegal), M Poland (Down), Joe McMahon (Tyrone); M Penrose (Tyrone) K Niblock (Antrim), C McManus (Monaghan).
Subs for Ulster: K Hughes (Monaghan) for McCarron (47); P McComiskey (Down) for Niblock (64); C McAliskey (Tyrone) for Poland (56).
Red card: D Givney (48, second yellow).
MUNSTER: B Kealy; M Ó Sé, A O’Mahony (all Kerry), P Codd (Tipperary); N O’Leary, E Cadogan, P Kissane (all Cork); G Brennan (Clare), A Walsh (Cork); P Kerrigan, D O’Connor (both Cork), A Clohessy (Clare); C O’Neill (Cork), G Hurney (Waterford), G Collins (Limerick).
Subs for Munster: M O’Gorman (Waterford) for Codd (29); B O’Driscoll (Cork) for Clohessy (32); R Donnelly (Clare) for Kerrigan, J O’Riordan (Limerick) for Collins (both 67).
Referee: J Henry (Mayo).