BALLINDERRY broke the hearts of the Michael Murphy-inspired Glenswilly to claim the title for the first time since 2001 with a classy second-half performance at Healy Park, Omagh.
Joy was unconfined among the management, players and supporters of Ballinderry at the final whistle, and rightly so.
The Derry side were worthy winners but the victory will taste all the sweeter because of the reserves of character they had to mine under the lash of a rampant Glenswilly.
Pre-match predictions had the Donegal champs as clear underdogs. The club has only been playing senior football for seven years; this time last year they were relegated to Division 2 of the Donegal league, and yesterday was their debut in an Ulster final.
By contrast, Ballinderry have a strong pedigree in that they were beaten Ulster finalists in 2008, and have claimed their third successive county championship this season.
But that didn't matter a hoot to Glenswilly. They mounted a mini-blitzkrieg at the start of each half, and asked serious questions of their opponents.
In fairness, Ballinderry had the answers, primarily in their willingness to graft unselfishly, and the ability to kick some fine long-range points when they were most needed.
Their manager Martin McKinless was jubilant, and indeed somewhat relieved. His plan was for Ballinderry to storm into the match from the start, as has been their wont in previous games.
Instead, Glenswilly rocked the Derry team with goals early in each half and the script had to be torn up and re-written.
"No doubt about that. We were hoping to get a good start, but it backfired on us," said McKinless. "Luckily, it came at the right time, so we had time to regroup and recuperate.
"Then we got the sucker punch again at the start of the second half. It was another big blow to us but the boys showed their never-say-die spirit.
"We knew Glenswilly weren't just a one-man band depending on Michael Murphy. They're a good side. We're glad to get over the line and it's great for the parish and for everyone involved."
The Ballinderry display was exemplified by the tigerish defending of Raymond Wilson, the work rate and stylish long-range kicking of man-of-the-match James Conway, and the speedy drive and shooting of Colin Devlin.
The rest of the team and the subs, including former Derry star Enda Muldoon, who came on in the second half, can also hold their heads up with pride.
Glenswilly's Eamon Ward, Caolan Kelly, and Ruairi Crawford gave strong performances, as did Neil Gallagher and Ciaran Bonner in midfield.
Murphy contributed 1-3, with one point from a '45', and did all he could to drive his side on.
Ultimately, the only reason the Donegal champs had to bow the knee was the overall quality and strength in depth of Ballinderry.
Glenswilly manager Gary McDaid summed it up: "The number of attacks both teams had was similar enough, but they were more clinical in their finishing.
"We hit the post twice in the first half and we had a couple of other opportunities that should have gone over the bar.
"We've made huge strides in the last 12 months but we want to win. I'm so proud of the boys but we don't want moral victories. We're just devastated."
The match got off to a sensational start with Murphy plundering a goal inside the first 30 seconds.
Ballinderry were caught cold as Murphy, who started the match at midfield, popped up in the right corner-forward position. He swung his left boot at the ball; it looked at best destined for a point and maybe a tad too close to the far post, but then gravity took over and the ball dropped under the bar for a goal.
On eight minutes, Murphy made it 1-1 with a point from a '45', giving the Donegal champions the tonic start they would hardly have dared to anticipate. A blanket defensive policy and quick breaks forward by Glenswilly caused Ballinderry problems for a time, but they got back into the game when Michael McIver fisted home a 26th-minute goal.
Ballinderry held a four-point lead (1-6 to 1-2) at the interval. Within eight minutes of the restart, that scoreline read: Glenswilly 2-5, Ballinderry 1-8 and the sides were sensationally level.
Colin Kelly (point), Caolan Kelly (goal), and Murphy (point) all registered on the scoreboard inside two-and-a-half minutes. Darren McGinley clipped another point over the bar on 38 minutes.
It didn't last. Ballinderry's Ryan Bell found space for a classy score, and Conleith Gilligan's point from a free had the sides level for the last time in the match.
Over the next 22 minutes, Ballinderry upped their pace and work rate. Glenswilly's momentum dipped slightly, and gradually the game slipped away from the grasp of Murphy and Co.
Scorers – Ballinderry: M McIver 1-0, C Devlin 0-3 (1f), C Gilligan 0-3 (2fs), J Conway, D McGuckin 0-2 each, D McKinless, A Devlin, D Conway 0-1 each. Glenswilly: M Murphy 1-3 (1 '45'), Caolan Kelly 1-1, Colin Kelly, D McGinley 0-1 each.
Ballinderry – M Conlan; R Scott, C Nevin, M McIver; R Wilson, G McKinless, D Lawn; Kevin McGuckin, J Conway; D McKinless, Kevin 'Moss' McGuckin, D McGuckin; C Devlin, R Bell, C Gilligan. Subs: E Muldoon for K McGuckin (33), A Devlin for Lawn (39), D Conway for M McIvor (55), R Wilkinson for C Devlin (59).
Glenswilly – P O'Donnell; B McDaid, J McFadden, C Kelly; E Ward, R Crawford, JP McDaid; N Gallagher, C Bonner; C Kelly, J Gibbons, M Murphy; K McFadden, G McFadden, D McGinley. Subs: A McDevitt for J McFadden (h-t), B Farrelly for K McFadden (48), B Molloy for J McDaid (52), L Kelly for J Gibbons (60), R Diver for R Crawford (60).
Ref – P Hughes (Armagh)