Crossmaglen 2-9 Naomh Conaill 0-10
Crossmaglen are kings of Ulster once again, for a record eighth time, after another typically stoic display at Kingspan Breffni Park.
They trailed at the break, and went down to 14 men shortly afterwards, but in the famous tradition of this legendary south Armagh club, they revelled in adversity and triumphed in a blaze of glory.
Naomh Conaill from Glenties, appearing in their first provincial final, were simply squeezed out of the game by the vastly experienced men of Cross, and it was one of their favourite sons, Oisin McConville, who once again rolled back the years with a superb display of finishing that saw him tally 1-4.
Jamie Clarke and McConville pushed Cross into a familiar level of fluency with early points, but after recovering from their big-match nerves, Naomh Conaill began to perform with conviction.
Leo McLoone sparked their challenge with a superb point, and after Dermot Molloy had chipped over a couple of frees, they led by a point by the 14th minute.
What hade been a cagey contest burst into life with a rash of goal chances in the latter stages of the opening quarter.
First Jamie Clarke had an effort blocked by Tommy Donoghue, then Crossmaglen goalkeeper Paul Hearty showed razor-sharp reactions to get a hand to Dara Gallagher’s snapshot.
But in the 16th minute, the south Armagh men did find the net, Clarke applyinbg a clinical finish to Michael McNamee’s assist.
That setback simply brought the best out of the Donegal champions. They ran fearlessly at the Cross defence, and scores from Gallagher, Johnny McLoone and Molloy had them in front for the third time.
McNamee brought the sides level, but was soon afterwards withdrawn, the concerns of the rangers’ management team illustrated by their decision to bring in an extra defender, Francie Bellew, just before the break,.
Gallagher’s second score sent Glenties in with a 0-7 to 1-3 lead, but the vast experience built up in Crossmaglen over many years proved decisive in the second period.
Clarke turned provider for the ageless Oisin McConville to sweep home their second goal in the 39th minute, just moments after they had been reduced to 14 men with the second yellow card dismissal of Tony Kernan.
The Donegal men just couldn’t find a way through a blanket defence woven of the durable fabric that is Francie Bellew, Paul Kernan and Danny O’Callaghan.
They scored just one point in the opening 23 minutes of the second half, while the rangers were able to pick off scores on the breakaway, with Clarke, McConville and Aaron Kernan all hitting the target.
The dashing Martin Aherne came off the bench to make a big impact, as did John McEntee, and it was experience which finally won the day.
Oisin signed off in spectacular fashion with a wonderful score from play to spark the celebrations.
Crossmaglen: P Hearty, P McKeown, P Kernan, J Morgan, A Kernan (0-1, f), D O’Callaghan, S Finnegan, J Hanratty, D McKenna, J Clarke (1-2), S Kernan, F Hanratty, T Kernan (0-1), M McNamee (0-1), O McConville (1-4, 0-3f).
Subs: F Bellew for McNamee, A Cunningham for S Kernan, M Aherne for Finnegan, J McEntee for McKenna
Naomh Conaill: S McGrath, T Donoghue, J Bonner, C Boyle, M Boyle, A Thomnpson, E Waide, M Regan, J McLoone (0-1), B McDyre (0-1), L McLoone (0-1), D Gallagher (0-3, 2f), J O’Malley, D Molloy (0-4, 4f), L Thompson.
Subs: S Corcoran for L Thompson, K Carragher for F Hanratty, J McKenna for O’Malley.
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).