Ulster steamroll feeble Connacht
OUCH! That result has to hurt the men of Connacht in the competition that is fighting for its life, but, would you believe it, nobody involved from either side would vote to remove the inter-provincial series from the calendar.
Timing, venue decisions, promotion; all these were topics briefly discussed in the post-match interviews at Markievicz Park, Sligo, but the undercurrent of pride in the province and a belief that the competition should remain in existence was the theme.
Mayo's Conor Mortimer, who scored nine of the Connacht points, all but one of them from free-kicks, might have been excused for dubbing the exercise a waste of a weekend, but he did not regret playing in the match.
His side battled hard but from the first minute were put under the cosh by an eager, hungry, and very positive Ulster team that led by 11 points -- 2-10 to 0-5 -- at half time.
It didn't get much better in the second half, and Connacht lost this semi-finals by 12 points, leaving Ulster to move forward to the final against Munster next weekend.
Mortimer was understandably disappointed that the Western province couldn't give Ulster a better game. He said: "I think it's well worth it (the competition). It shows you're at a level, to be recognised as one of the best players in Connacht. Anyone who doesn't think that, it's their loss if they don't want to play, but anyone that was there today would always want to play, me included.
"It's a privilege to play for your province, always has been, always will be for as long as it goes on."
Ulster manager Joe Kernan commented: "You've seen quality football. It was one-sided but that's not our fault. The Ulster players all seemed to be up for it and they played some lovely football. We're delighted with the result and we're glad to be in the final."
Kernan set his side out to play fast, direct football and they did that from the start. Donegal's Neil McGee linked up with Antrim's James Loughrey to set up Mark Poland of Down for a goal-bound shot that crashed off the crossbar inside the first minute.
Connacht got away with that one, but not for long. Rory Kavanagh, Mark Penrose (free) and Conleth Gilligan had three points on the board before the excellent Peter Harte smashed home Ulster's first goal in the 12th minute.
Goal number two came in the 17th minute from a delightful 50-metre pass from midfield by Owen Mulligan into the hands of Poland, who turned and fired the ball into the Connacht net.
By half-time, Connacht had only five points to their credit, one from a free by Galway's Nicky Joyce and four by Mortimer, three of them from frees.
Connacht's forwards found the Ulster defence as miserly and stern as the Troika are with the nation's finances, and our European overlords would have approved of the 'not an inch' attitude displayed by Neil McGee, Ciaran McKeever, Darren Hughes, and midfielders Dan Gordon and Rory Kavanagh.
At the other end, Harte, Poland, Conleith Gilligan, Martin Penrose, Benny Coulter and Owen Mulligan tormented the home side's defence .
There was no real hope but Connacht began the second half brightly and earned three frees, all of which yielded scores.
Mortimer slotted one point, and then two smashing points from long-range frees taken off the ground by Donie Shine early in the second half reduced the deficit to nine points at 2-10 to 0-7.
But it soon reverted to business as usual with scores by McKeever, Gordon and Gilligan a mere prelude to goal number three in the 54th minute.
Mulligan and Harte once again clinically opened up the home defence with some devastating passes before presenting Martin Penrose with the chance to hit the net with a close-range shot, making the score 3-13 to 0-8. Credit to both teams for keeping the pace up to the end, but Connacht, despite tacking on another five points over that last 15 minutes, were left with nothing to show for their efforts.
Scorers -- Ulster: M Penrose 1-4 (2f); P Harte 1-2; M Poland 1-0; C Gilligan 0-3; E Mulligan, D Gordon 0-2 each; J Loughrey, C McKeever, R Kavanagh 0-1 each. Connacht: C Mortimer 0-9 (8f); D Shine 0-2 (2f); N Joyce (1f), W McKeon 0-1 each.
ULSTER -- B McVeigh (Down); B Donaghy (Armagh), N McGee (Donegal), K Lacey (Donegal); C McKeever (Armagh), D Hughes (Monaghan), J Loughrey (Antrim); D Gordon (Down), R Kavanagh (Donegal); P Harte (Tyrone), M Poland (Down), C Gilligan (Derry); M Penrose (Tyrone), B Coulter (Down), O Mulligan (Tyrone). Subs: V Corey (Monaghan) for J Loughrey (56); M Donnelly (Tyrone) for B Coulter (59); O Lennon (Monaghan) for R Kavanagh (63); C McCarron (Tyrone) for K Lacey (66).
CONNACHT: G Claffey (Roscommon); S McDermott (Roscommon, S Purcell (Roscommon), C Harrison (Sligo); G Bradshaw (Galway), J Davey (Sligo), W McKeon (Leitrim); M Finnegan (Roscommon), B Egan (Sligo); K McLaughlin (Mayo), D Shine (Roscommon), A Dillon (Mayo); C Mortimer (Mayo), A Marren (Sligo), N Joyce (Galway). Subs: T Flynn (Galway) for B Egan (h-t); K Higgins (Roscommon) for N Joyce (h-t); M Conroy (Mayo) for A Marren (43); P Conroy (Galway) for M Finnegan (56); M Breheny (Sligo) for D Shine (63).
Ref -- J Curley (Meath)