Ulster 2-12 Donegal 1-12
The All-Ireland champions paid their own tribute to the late Michaela McAreavey on a poignant night at Casement Park.
Donegal took on an Ulster selection in a special challenge, the centrepiece to a celebration of a life that was cut tragically short.
Ulster came out on top in the ‘Match for Michaela’, with the help of goals from Martin Penrose and Darren Hughes.
Gaelic football, music and dance came together in front of a crowd of around 20,000, with the proceeds from the event going to the Michaela Foundation.
Michaela’s father, Mickey Harte, assisted Ulster manager Joe Kernan on an emotion-charged evening
An uncharacteristic defensive error presented Micheal McCann with an open goal after just 90 seconds, but it produced a glaring miss as the Antrim attacker somehow shot wide.
But Joe Kernan’s side continued to attack, the recent news that the Interprovincial Championship is to go ahead in the Spring clearly sparking early competition for places.
Defenders Darren Hughes and James Loughrey powered over points before Stephen Griffin’s 11th minute free gave Donegal their first score.
Martin Penrose and Cavan midfelder David Givney opened out the advantage to three, and in the 15th minute, Tyrone attacker Penrose hit the net with a dipping shot that deceived All-Star goalkeeper Paul Durcan at the far post.
Donegal, fielding seven of the team that started the All-Ireland final, found that their opponents, had promised a competitive encounter, were true to their word, and solid defending from Dan Gordon and Ryan McCloskey paved the way for an excellent Colm Cavanagh score.
Neil Gallagher thumped over a trademark point and Adrian Hanlon was also on target, but at the halfway stage, Ulster led by 1-6 to 0-4.
Even an inspired second half performance from Paddy McBrearty could not rescue the Sam Maguire Cup winners.
Held scoreless in the first half, he fired in a 1-5 tally to delight Donegal fans in the big crowd.
Ulster were always able to keep their noses in front, however, with Loughry and Penrose, along with substitute Benny Coulter and Ciaran McManus, nailing quality scores.
Ryan Bradley almost pulled back a Donegal goal, but was superbly denied by goalkeeper Brendan McVeigh.
The All-Ireland champions continued to probe, reaping their rewards in the form of points from McBrearty, who scored from play, frees and a ’45, and another from Gallagher.
But Ulster tightened their grip when skipper Hughes slid home a 63rd minute goal, and Colm Cavanagh’s second point opened out a seven points lead.
McBrearty replied with a wonderful goal, but the provincial side held on to win by three.
Ulster scorers: M Penrose 1-3 (0-1f), D Hughes 1-1 (0-1f), C Cananagh, C McManus (1f), J Loughrey 0-2 each, S Cavanagh, D Givney 0-1 each.
Donegal scorers: P McBrearty 1-5 (0-2f, 0-1 ’45), N Gallagher, A Hanlon 0-2 each, C Toye, S Griffin (f), G McFadden 0-1 each.
Ulster: B McVeigh, R McCloskey, D Gordon, C McKaigue, C McKeever, D Hughes, J Loughrey, S Cavanagh, D Givney, C Cavanagh, M Poland, J McMahon, M Penrose, M McCann, C McManus.
Subs: V Corey for McCloskey, B Coulter for McCann, A Rogers for Poland, C Gormley for Gordon
Donegal: P Durcan, P Mc Grath, E Mc Gee, T Mc Kinley, F Mc Glynn, A McFadden, P McGee, C Toye, N Gallagher, D McLaughlin, A Hanlon, R Bradley, P Mc Brearty, M O’Reilly, S Griffin.
Subs: G McFadden for A McFadden, O McNeilis for Griffin, M McElhinney for McKinley
Referee: M Deegan (Laois)