Ulster get past Connacht into interpro final

Ulster 1-15 Connacht 2-9

Ulster 1-15 Connacht 2-9

Monaghan duo Paul Finlay and Thomas Freeman scored 1-08 between them as Ulster swept through to next week's M Donnelly Interprovincial football final with a 1-15 to 2-9 victory over Connacht last night in Ballybofey.

At least two fireworks were let off at the Donegal venue but this was a far from explosive game as Ulster emerged three-point winners under the newly installed floodlights.

Two goals in the space of a minute-and-a-half for Connacht really set the visitors up nicely for this contest with the westerners holding a 2-2 to 0-2 lead after seven minutes.

Half-forward Andy Moran and full-forward Declan Maxwell were the goal getters with Mayo's Moran slotting to the net following a well-weighted pass from Sean Armstrong, who was a late introduction for the absent Michael Meehan.

Maxwell continued Moran's good early work by finding the net soon after, while Ulster kept in touch with points from Finlay and Cavan's Ger Pierson.

With six points separating the sides, Connacht held a deserved lead but Ulster were quick to cut the gap thanks to fine individual scores from Freeman, who collected his first All-Star award last night, and Finlay. Indeed Ulster could have cut the deficit further but for some inaccuracy in front of the posts.

Points from Armstrong and Roscommon's Karol Mannion restored Connacht's two-goal advantage but Ulster were pressing hard and scores from Dan Gordon and Enda Muldoon cut the gap to four points, twelve minutes before the interval.

As the game ebbed and flowed, it was Connacht's turn to exert control and Armstrong had an excellent goal chance snuffed out in the 27th-minute when Ulster goalkeeper James Reilly pulled off a superb save.

Both teams traded points before the interval but at half-time it was still John O'Mahony's Connacht men who were in the ascendancy - they held a 2-5 to 0-8 advantage.

While the opening half lacked intensity, the second half promised much with Ulster firing on all cylinders in the third quarter. The home side stole the lead six and a half minutes into the half with a Finlay point and then a goal from the Monaghan half-forward after great assistance from Freeman, who pinged through a lovely long ball.

Although substitute Ger Heneghan took the next Connacht score, this was a mere blip in a dominant Ulster patch which saw fine scores from Gordon, Kevin Cassidy, who fisted over, Armagh's Aaron Kernan and Freeman and Ulster held a 1-13 to 2-7 lead as the game entered the final quarter.

Connacht remained resilient but it was Ulster who looked the more potent. The visitors broke through for a goal chance with six minutes remaining following good work by Keith Higgins and Heneghan but the Roscommon man could only watch on as Derry's All-Star full-back Kevin McCloy made a superb block.

At the opposite end, Ulster, last winners in 2004, continued to tag on the points to firmly seal a spot in next Saturday's Croke Park decider against Munster.

Scorers - Ulster: P Finlay 1-4 (0-3f), T Freeman 0-4 (0-1f), D Gordon 0-3, A Kernan, K Cassidy, G Pierson, E Muldoon 0-1 each.

Connacht: A Moran 1-1, D Maxwell 1-0, S Armstrong 0-3 (0-2f), M Breheny 0-2 (0-1f), K Higgins, K Mannion, G Heneghan 0-1 each.

ULSTER: J Reilly; B Owens, K McCloy, K Lacey; A Kernan, C Gormley, K Cassidy; E Lennon, D Gordon; D Clerkin, S Cavanagh, P Finlay; T Freeman, G Pierson, E Muldoon.

Subs used: C McFadden for Pierson (49 mins), C Toye for Clerkin (64).

CONNACHT: P Greene; C Harrison, F Hanley, J McKeon; D Meehan, D Blake, K Higgins; R McGarrity, B Cullinane; M Breheny, S Armstrong, A Moran; C Cregg, D Maxwell, K Mannion.

Subs used: G Heneghan for Cregg (33 mins), F Dolan for Maxwell (45), M Finneran for Cullinane (54).

Referee: Pat Fox (Westmeath)

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