Ulster 3-11 Munster 1-15
Ulster and Munster served up an Interprovincial football final classic at the Athletic Grounds today, where the northern province retained the title with a late smash-and-grab raid in the form of a goal from full back Neil McGee.
A crowd of less than 3,000 turned up, but the quality of this thrilling encounter should give the competition a reprieve of another couple of seasons at least.
Ulster’s 30th title takes them two clear of nearest rivals Leinster, but for long stages, Munster looked as if they were set to claim their 16th success.
Inspired by the clinical finishing of Clare’s David Tubridy, who finished with eight points, they seized control in the third quarter, and Rory Donnelly’s goal took them to within touching distance of triumph.
But McGee charged forward to blast a superb winning goal to the net two minutes from the end.
In front of a crowd of 2,860, Owen Mulligan wasted no time in making his mark, curling over Ulster’s opening point after just 30 seconds.
But scores from Clare’s David Tubridy, from a free, and Paddy Kelly had the southerners ahead by the fifth minute.
In an open and entertaining contest, both sides placed the emphasis on playing constructive football, with no sign of sweepers or extra men committed to the defensive cause.
And the consequence was a high-scoring opening half which saw the sided level on six occasions.
Tubridy looked lively in the left corner throughout, hitting five points, there of them delightful efforts from play, while Kelly and Cork team-mate Paul Kerrigan also found the target.
But while Munster’s approach often focused on route one ball to Waterford full forward Gary Hurney, Ulster, playing into the wind, displayed more fluency and flair, with Mulligan jinking his way around marker Aidan O’Mahony to hit his second point.
Monaghan’s Darren Hughes thumped a ’45 between the posts to level the game on the half-hour, and a minute later, the holders struck for a goal.
Ciaran McKeever punted a long ball down the right wing in the direction of Benny Coulter, who picked out his down colleague Mark Poland, and he stepped around goalkeeper Alan Quirke before planting the ball in the net.
Two more from Tubridy narrowed the gap to a point, Ulster ahead by 1-7 to 0-9 at the break.
Tubridy’s sixth point, from a ’45, had the sides level within two minutes of the restart, and with Gary Brennan and Seamus Scanlon bossing midfield, they went three clear in the 54th minute.
Ulster had defended desperately for long stages, but they were given a massive boost when, for the second time in the game, Coulter showed wonderful vision to cross for Peter Harte to first-time to the net with a quarter of an hour to play.
But Munster restored their three points cushion four minutes later through substitute Rory Donnelly, another Clare man, whose rasping shot was deflected past Ulster goalkeeper Brendan McVeigh by Karl Lacey.
Despite this latest setback, Ulster had the confidence and composure to play themselves back into the game.
Centre back Darren Hughes inspirational captaincy to drive a ’45 through the posts before adding a point from play.
In the 68th minute, full back McGee got on the end of a move involving Lacey and Harte to fire an angled shot to the net for a sensational winner.
Ulster: M Poland 1-1, P Harte, N McGee 1-0 each, O Mulligan 0-4 (1f), D Hughes 0-3 (2 ’45), M Penrose 0-2 (1f), D Gordon 0-1.
Munster: R Donnelly 1-0, D Tubridy 0-8 (3f, 1 ’45), P Kerrigan 0-3, P Kelly, G Hurney (1f) 0-2 each.
Ulster: B McVeigh, B Donaghy, N McGee, K Lacey, C McKeever, D Hughes, J Loughrey, D Gordon, R Kavanagh, P Harte, M Poland, M Penrose, C Gilligan, B Coulter, O Mulligan.
Subs: J McMahon for Gilligan, O Lennon for Kavanagh, V Corey for Loughrey
Munster: A Quirke, A O’Mahony, J McCarthy, S Lavin, T O Se, G Canty, P Kissane, G Brennan, S Scanlon, P Kelly, P Kerrigan, J Cooke, D Tubridy, G Hurney, I Ryan.
Subs: P O’Neill for Cooke, R Donnelly for Kelly, M Collins for Ryan
Referee: M Duffy (Sligo).