The Donegal title holders, in only their eighth season in the senior ranks, came undone against the 2002 All-Ireland champions who also tasted provincial glory in both 1981 – the year before Glenswilly were founded – and 2001.
Martin McKinless had also lost Ulster finals to Crossmaglen Rangers in 2006 and 2008 but, after sealing a third successive Derry SFC, finally managed to bridge their 12-year gap.
Glenswilly, as Donegal teams tend to do, defended in numbers along their 45-metre line and while that was enough to overcome St Gall’s from Belfast and Fermanagh’s Roslea Shamrocks, the standard of Ballinderry’s long range shooting was exceptional.
“In the first-half we played through the centre and then we started to use the wings a bit in the second-half and that’s where we got our scores from — out on the wings, long-range points,” McKinless said. “Our players would be very good at that.”
Glenswilly made a dream start. In 26 seconds, the talismanic Michael Murphy fired in a fortuitous goal when he mishit a point attempt into the top corner of Michael Conlon’s net.
Ballinderry were reeling as Glenswilly were content to let Conlon take short kick-outs and let the favourites try to build from the back. Collie Devlin, James Conway and Dermot McGuckin all scored but Glenswilly, content to play on the break, edged 1-2 to 0-3 in front 23 minutes in when Caolan Kelly benefited from a fine Murphy pass.
Murphy was having an interesting duel with Gareth McKinless, son of the Ballinderry manager who presumably pulled the shortest straw when it came to the marking responsibilities. But the Ballinderry teen was breaking even and with both players booked in the first-half by Armagh referee Padraig Hughes, it left things even more precarious.
Ballinderry’s sprightly forwards had the ability to take on scores in front of goal and, towards the end of the first-half, Glenswilly hadn’t plugs to fill the holes in their defensive wall. Devlin and Conleith Gilligan levelled the match with a pair of frees.
Then, on 26 minutes, the tide swung Ballinderry’s way when Michael McIver’s shot was blocked and fell Ryan Bell’s way. He tucked it past Philip O’Donnell to put Ballinderry three up.
Glenswilly had chances too but their economy in shooting was their poorest return for the season, their four first half wides, coupled with two efforts striking the upright Indeed the second, from Ciaran Bonner in first half stoppage time, actually started the move that led to Dermot McGuckin making it 1-6 to 1-2 for Ballinderry at half time.
The script seemed to be following predicable lines but at the start of the second-half, Glenswilly, 5/2 outsiders, turned the match on its head. Things were simmering when Colin Kelly of Glenswilly and Ballinderry’s James Conway swapped scores. Two minutes into the second instalment, Kealan McFadden made a daring break and fed Murphy, who instantly flashed a fisted pass to Kelly to palm home. Ballinderry responded by bellowing forward in numbers and, for the first time as the floodlights’ glare intensified, the contest had the intense feel of two wounded boxers slugging it out in the 12th round.
Neil Gallagher’s block started a move that saw Murphy notch a splendid point and then, on 37 minutes, Darren McGinley popped up to put Glenswilly back in front, 2-5 to 1-7.
Ballinderry, though, steadied themselves and those experiences of running Crossmaglen close before were drawn upon. Gilligan levelled prior to a three-point lead being re-established thanks to Collie Devlin, Darren McKinless and Aaron Devlin. Glenswilly, it appeared, had expended the majority of their energy in the opening chapters of the second-half and, as Kevin McGuckin and James Conway grappled control of midfield, Murphy was forced to man the area with Gallagher and Bonner.
O’Donnell in the Glenswilly goal saved from Conor Nevin to keep the underdogs’ tail wagging, but although Murphy reduced the arrears to two, Darren Conway and Gilligan’s scores saw Ballinderry over the line.
“We’re devastated,” Glenswilly manager Gary McDaid said afterwards.
“We left it on the field and those in the green, white and gold jerseys there gave it everything there for the Glen. Ballinderry are just a class act. We competed well there right up to the 50th minute. But that last 10 minutes just showed their experience and showed their ability. Hats off to them. ”
Scorers for Ballinderry: M McIver (1-0), C Devlin (1f), C Gilligan (2fs) (0-3 each), J Conway, D McGuckin (0-2 each), D McKinless, A Devlin, D Conway (0-1 each).
Scores for Glenswilly: M Murphy (1-3, 1 45) , Caolán Kelly (1-1), D McGinley, Colin Kelly (0-1 each).
GLENSWILLY: P O’Donnell; B McDaid, E Ward, JP McDaid; R Crawford, J McFadden, J Gibbons; N Gallagher, C Bonner; D McGinley, G McFadden, K McFadden; Caolán Kelly, M Murphy, Colin Kelly.
Subs for Glenswilly: A McDevitt for J McFadden (ht), B Farrelly for K McFadden (48), B Molloy for J McDaid (52), L Kelly for Gibbons (60), R Diver for Crawford (60).
BALLINDERRY: M Conlan; R Scott, C Nevin, M McIver; R Wilson, G McKinless, D Lawn; K McGuckin, J Conway; D McKinless, K McGuckin, D McGuckin; C Devlin, R Bell, C Gilligan.
Subs for Ballinderry: E Muldoon for K McGuckin (33), A Devlin for Lawn (39), D Conway for McIver (49), R Wilkinson for C Devlin (58).
Referee: Padraig Hughes (Armagh).