Antrim gambled and won at Casement Park yesterday when they collected their tenth Ulster SHC title in succession with eight points to spare over a plucky Armagh side.
The Orchard County were appearing in the provincial final for the first time in 65 years and despite the fact that Antrim were ‘resting' the majority of their regular senior players, the Saffrons managed to shake off a determined challenge from the underdogs to win by 2-20 to 2-12.
The eight-point winning margin belies the great effort made by the less experienced losers.
In fact, it took an injury time goal to seal the win.
Playing with a brisk breeze in their backs, Antrim controlled the first-half.
A ninth minute Conor McCall goal, after Armagh full-back Ciarán Clifford collided with an in-rushing forward, gave Antrim a 1-3 to 0-3 lead they never relinquished.
They popped over points by the minute to rush into a 1-9 to 0-5 lead by the 22nd minute with Joey Scullion deadly accurate from placed balls.
Ryan Gaffney kept Armagh in touch with scores from frees with Conor Corvan giving the home defence some anxious moments, but Aaron Graffin swept up a lot of the danger with timely interceptions and accurate clearances.
It was 1-11 to 0-6 on the half-hour when the visitors were thrown as lifeline.
Conor Corvan latched on to a deft pass from former All-Ireland SFC medallist Paul McCormack to crack home a goal and leave the interval score at 1-12 to 1-6.
In the opening minutes of the second-half, both Gaffney and midfielder Kieran McKernan narrowed the gap with points for Armagh and right through the closing 35 minutes of the game it was a close battle with the losers showing a lot of grit and determination.
In the 43rd minute it was 1-15 to 1-10 as Gaffney screwed over a super score from the end line, but points by skipper-for-the-day Eddie McCloskey and Karl McKeegan, who was moved out from corner-forward to midfield, stretched Antrim's advantage.
Seven points (1-18 to 1-11) separated the sides after 57 minutes before the Orchard County boys served notice that they hadn't gone away.
A close-in Paul McCormack free was blocked in the goalmouth and Keady man McCormack rifled the rebound to the Antrim net.
The free had been awarded when Herron fouled and received his second yellow card that ended his participation in the final.
With five points between the sides and only minutes left, Paddy Doherty slammed the door shut on Armagh when his rocket crashed off a post and in a goalmouth scramble he managed to trickle the sliothar over the line to give his side their 2-20 to 2-12 winning margin.
ANTRIM: C Cunningham; A Graffin, K McGourty, J McCouaig, K McKeague, M Donnelly, C Herron (0-2), B McFall (0-1), J Black,J Scullion (0-7, 5f), T McCann (0-3), E McCloskey (0-1), P Doherty (1-2), C McFall (1-0), K McKeegan (0-3). Subs: K Molloy for McKeague (half-time), C Carson for Black (half-time), P Shiels for B McFall (55), D Hamill for McCann (66).
ARMAGH: S Doherty; M Mallon, C Clifford, JJ Hughes, B McCormack, R McGrattan (0-1, 1f), N Curry, K McKernan (0-1), J Corvan (0-1), C Carvill (0-1), R Gaffney (0-6, 6f), M Lennon, M Moen, P McCormack (1-0), C Corvan (1-2). Subs: D Carvill for Lennon (44), C McKee for Hughes (48), M Maguire for Moen (66).
Referee: D Magee (Down).