Tyrone 1-18 Antrim 0-15
Tyrone crushed Antrim’s dream at Clones, where a crowd of 32,632 watched the All-Ireland champions claim a 12th Ulster SFC crown.
The Saffrons, appearing in their first provincial decider in 39 years, and seeking their first title since 1951, went down fighting, and will go into next weekend’s Qualifier eliminator confident they can extend their season.
All but one of Tyrone’s scores came from play, and while Antrim skipper Paddy Cunningham finished with an 11-point haul, his clinical finishing was not enough to inspire his county to what would have been a massive upset.
Cunningham gave Antrim the lead from a free in the opening minute, but the All-Ireland champions were quickly into their stride, with Ryan McMenamin and Joe McMahon repeatedly raiding down the left flank.
In the 11th minute, Stephen O’Neill spotted Sean Cavanagh’s run, and the Footballer of the Year darted past two defenders before drilling the ball past goalkeeper Peter Graham.
McMemanin, Tommy McGuigan and McMahon (2) tagged on points, and the Saffrons were looking at a 1-4 to 0-1 deficit.
Cunningham stemmed the flow temporarily with his second free, but that merely promoted another volley of Red Hand scores.
Cavanagh thundered through for a trademark point, and there were further contributions from Owen Mulligan and Kevin Hughes as the scoreboard ticked on, now reading 1-8 to 0-2, before Antrim got their first score from play in the 30th minute through midfielder Aodhan Gallagher.
But the Saffrons hit the lat three points of the half, two more from skipper Cunningham cutting the deficit to a manageable six, with Tyrone ahead by 1-8 to 0-5 at the break.
The Red Hands stepped up the tempo on the restart, stretching the advantage through Mulligan, Cavanagh and McGuigan.
Antrim did respond through Cunningham and Michael McCann. Cunningham could have had a goal when he got on the end of a fluid move involving Justin Crozier, Terry O’Neill, Kevin Niblock and James Loughrey, and while he settled for a point, the score acted as a spur to Liam Bradley’s men.
When he landed his side’s fourth point on the spin, the deficit was down to five.
But Tyrone sensed the danger, responded with scores from Cavanagn and Hughes, and manager Mickey Harte felt sufficiently comfortable to call skipper Brian Dooher ashore with 16 minutes still to play.
Tyrone: J Devine, PJ Quinn, Justin McMahon, R McMenamin (0-1), D Harte (0-1), C Gormley, P Jordan (0-1), K Hughes (0-2), S Cavanagh (1-4), B Dooher, T McGuigan (0-3, 1f), Joe McMahon (0-2), M Penrose, S O'Neill, O Mulligan (0-3).
E McGinley for McGuigan (50), C Cavanagh for Dooher (54), C Gourley for McMenamin (66), B McGuigan (0-1) for Penrose (69), C McCullagh for O’Neill (69)
Antrim: P Graham, C Brady, A McClean, K O'Boyle, T Scullion, J Crozier, J Loughrey, M McCann (0-2), A Gallagher (0-1), T O'Neill, K Brady, N McKeever, P Cunningham (0-11, 7f), S Burke, T McCann
Subs: K Niblock for K Brady (25), C Murray for Burke (43), C Close (0-1) for McKeever (57), D O’Hagan for O’Neill (63), S McGreevy for Graham (68)
Referee: P Hughes (Armagh).