The first-half sending-off of Ulster midfielder Neil McManus for two yellow cards spoiled this encounter, but Connacht still struggled to impose themselves in Ballinasloe and it wasn’t until Eanna Ryan’s goal six minutes from time that Anthony Cunningham’s men could breathe easily.
Featuring players from Antrim, Derry, Down and Armagh, Gregory O’Kane’s side pulled within three points of Connacht late on thanks to a goal from a penalty by Cormac Donnelly, only for Ryan’s goal to trigger the opening of the floodgates. Ulster raced into a 0-5 to 0-0 lead, with McManus hitting two frees and Neil McAuley, Michael Armstrong and Karl Stewart also finding the range.
Damien Hayes was prominent throughout for Connacht even though he didn’t score and set up Iarla Tannian for a goal which put Connacht 1-8 to 0-8 in front at the break.
Two quick points from Stewart and Armstrong kept Ulster well in contention in the 39th minute and even when Connacht substitute Davy Glennon rounded off a splendid move with a goal in the 53rd minute O’Kane’s side didn’t panic, as Stewart kept landing his frees.
But ultimately they wilted under the pressure after Ryan’s goal as the fresh legs of Connacht’s substitutes made the difference.
However, the were plenty of positives for Ulster to draw from the encounter as Aaron Graffin and Donnelly had fine game in the full-back line and McManus, Michael Herron and Armstrong all caught the eye.
Connacht scorers: N Burke (0-8, 4fs); I Tannian (1-4); E Ryan (1-3); D Glennon (1-0); J Coen (0-2); N Healy (0-2, 1f)
Ulster scorers: K Stewart (0-6fs); N McManus (0-5, 4fs); C Donnelly (1-0pen); M Armstrong (0-2); N McAuley (0-1); C Carville (0-1)
CONNACHT: J Ryan (Galway); P Shiel (Galway), N Donoghue (Galway), Ger O’Halloran (Galway); T Óg Regan (Galway), F Moore (Galway), B Flaherty (Galway); J Grealish (Galway), D Fox (Galway); B Burke (Galway), N Burke (Galway), E Ryan (Galway); D Hayes (Galway), J Coen (Galway), I Tannian (Galway).
Subs: B Daly for Fox, h-t; D Glennon for Grealish, 46; N Healy for N Burke, 56; P Gordon for Flaherty, 58; K Raymond for Coen, 74;
ULSTER: G Clarke (Down); A Graffin (Antrim), C Donnelly (Antrim), S Ennis (Down); N McAuley (Antrim), L Hinphey (Derry), S McCrory (Antrim); C Woods (Down), N McManus (Antrim); M Herron (Antrim), K McGarry (Down), M Armstrong (Antrim); P McCloskey (Derry), K Stewart (Antrim), C Carville (Armagh).
Subs: J Coyle for McGarry, h-t; R Gaffney for McCloskey, 43; M Ennis for S Ennis, 78.
Referee: Tony Carroll (Offaly).
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