Unfortunately, there weren’t a massive amount more in the Croke Park stands to witness Ulster come out on top in an entertaining contest full of energy.
Jamie Clarke, fresh from his All-Ireland club semi-final heartache with Crossmaglen, shot a match-winning 2-1 to seal their 31st title success.
Monaghan’s Conor McManus grabbed the other goal for Ulster during a second-half that they dominated to secure their third consecutive win in the competition.
The pity was that just a few hundred watched the contest from the Hogan Stand.
All the stars were on show. Bernard Brogan kicked 11 points, two more than his semi-final haul, while Michael Murphy came off the bench for Donegal. Yet the public weren’t interested and there was the unfortunate sight of fans leaving the ground before the game started having just watched the All-Ireland junior club final.
Victorious Ulster manager Joe Kernan claimed the GAA missed a trick by not playing the Interprovincial final before the club decider. But he refused to be too critical of a competition that the GAA has chosen to breathe new life into by handing all of yesterday’s gate proceeds to Crumlin Children’s Hospital.
“I think the GAA have hit this one on the head because, over the past five years, they have said that this competition is done. I think they have put that message out there.
“But now, with the backing of the GAA, we are trying to turn this around. So I’m not going to be critical. We are going to tell everybody what a good competition it is and what good matches they are.”
Leinster manager Pat Gilroy agreed. “If big crowds mattered then we would get rid of the Sigerson,” argued Gilroy. “I think it’s about the players at the end of the day. If they want to play it, it should be played.”
Brogan kicked three early points to help them into a 0-7 to 0-1 lead after 18 minutes.
But Clarke’s first goal from a penalty after Kevin Niblock was hauled down brought Ulster right back into it. By half-time they trailed 0-9 to 1-4.
The introduction of All-Ireland-winning Donegal captain Michael Murphy was significant, scoring a point and lending dynamism to their attack along with the likes of Conor McManus, Joe McMahon and Mark McHugh.
McManus got Ulster’s second goal in the 40th minute, driving onto a popped pass from Clarke to rattle the net and put them ahead for the first time, 2-5 to 0-10.
They were level briefly after Brogan’s third converted free of the half but Clarke’s second goal and Ulster’s third was the decisive act. Like a week earlier in Longford, Leinster staged a rally with Cluxton and Brogan points but came up shy this time.
Scorers for Ulster: J Clarke 2-1 (1-0 pen), C McManus 1-2, S Cavanagh 0-3 (3f), M Penrose (1f), D Givney, M Murphy, P Harte, M McHugh & A Kernan (1f) 0-1.
Scorers for Leinster: B Brogan 0-11 (9f), J Sheridan 0-3, B Connor, K McManamon & S Cluxton (1 45) 0-1.
ULSTER: P McConnell; C McKeever, E McGee, C McKaigue; A Kernan, D Hughes, P Harte; D Givney, S Cavanagh; M McHugh, M Penrose, Joe McMahon; J Clarke, K Niblock, C McManus. Subs: M Murphy for Niblock 25, G McKiernan for Givney h/t, Justin McMahon for McKeever h/t, M Poland for Penrose 59, K Hughes for McHugh 65.
LEINSTER: S Cluxton; K Lillis, G Molloy, B Malone; M Quinn, G Brennan, A Flynn; C O’Sullivan, MD Macauley; J Heslin, B Murphy, B Connor; R Barry, J Sheridan, B Brogan. Subs: P Keenan for Connor h/t, R O’Carroll for Lillis 41, K McManamon 0-1 for Barry 43, S McCormack for Sheridan 54, J Stafford for Murphy 61.
Referee: P Neilan (Roscommon).