Two goals in extra-time by Kilcoo, followed by two late red cards for Crossmaglen, effectively swung the game the way of the Down champions after 160 combative minutes.
Kilcoo led 1-7 to 0-3 with 20 minutes of normal time remaining but a straight red card for Daryl Branagan in the 41st minute almost cost them dearly.
Despite losing seven players from last year’s side, including David McKenna who tore his calf in the drawn game, depleted Crossmaglen somehow clawed their way back with an unanswered 1-4, to level the game at 1-7 apiece.
Kyle Carragher briefly gave Cross the lead 19 seconds into extra-time — the first and only time they led in the match and their only score in extra-time.
Kilcoo then hit them with two crucial goals, from Ryan Johnston in the third minute, and a screamer from Paul Devlin five minutes later. Conor Laverty had a hand in both.
There was no coming back from that for Cross.
It all unravelled for them with a straight red card for Stephen Kernan in extra-time followed by a second yellow for Paul McKeown as they ended the game with 13 men, watched by 9,670 — a record for an Ulster club championship match.
Crossmaglen have won seven of the last nine Ulster titles (they didn’t compete in the Ulster series in 2009 following a shock defeat in the Armagh championship) and manager Joe Kernan vowed they will be back.
“We hurt when we lose, and the only thing I can guarantee is that Cross will be back here this time next year,” he said.
Kilcoo boss Jim McCorry said: “There were a lot of turning points in the game, but the bottom line is that we’ve only won one game and we have a short recovery time to get our wounded players ready for Ballinderry next Sunday.”
Scorers for Kilkoo: P Devlin 2-2 (1-0pen), R Johnston 1-1, D O’Hanlon 0-4 (3f), N McEvoy, J McClean, Gerard McEvoy 0-1 each. Scorers for Crossmaglen: T Kernan 1-3 (0-3f), C Cumiskey 0-2, M Aherne, A Cunningham (0-1) each.KILCOO: S Kane; N Branagan, N McEvoy, D Branagan; D O’Hanlon, S O’Hanlon, Gerard McEvoy; P Greenan, A Branagan; P Devlin, J McClean, R Johnston; N Morgan, C Laverty, Gary McEvoy.
Subs: S Devlin for Gary McEvoy (54), J Johnston for Morgan (54), F McGreevy for J Johnston (79).
CROSSMAGLEN: P Hearty; P Hughes, P McKeown, S Finnegan; M Aherne, G Carragher, D O’Callaghan; J Hanratty, T Kernan; M McNamee, S Kernan, C Cumiskey; K Brennan, K Carragher, C O’Neill.
Subs: P Óg Grant for McNamee (35), M Boyce for O’Neill (35), A Cunningham for K Brennan (47), K McShane for Hanratty (79).
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).