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Ulster extend Inter-pro record with a display of heart and endeavour

Ulster 2-16 Connacht 3-10

By Declan Bogue

Given that it clearly matters to Ulster more than the other provinces, it was fitting that they should stretch their record tally of Inter-Provincial titles to 32 with a performance that captured the characteristics of football in the northern corner.

When Mayo's Jason Doherty pushed Connacht's lead out to six points after only 18 minutes, it was only right and proper that Ulster's management of Pete McGrath, along with selectors Tony Scullion and Diarmuid Marsden, should lean back on pragmatism.

The key switch was Tyrone's icily-composed Niall Sludden from wing-forward to sweeper.

By that stage, Connacht already had two goals, courtesy of Ciaran Murtagh of Roscommon who found the postage stamp corner past Niall Morgan for the first, and again went to the same side for his second.

They would get another major before the end of the first half, Damian Comer nudging his marker Killian Clarke under a dropping ball and although fumbled it twice, still goaled.

Ulster's revival was kick-started by Fermanagh's Aidan Breen. His only rival for man of the match - Armagh's Charlie Vernon - delayed a fistpass until Breen had ghosted past the defensive cover and for the second week in a row, found the back of the net.

Another six points were added between then and half-time. Derry's Enda Lynn buzzed with intent and Tomas Corrigan produced a score from nothing twice over to leave Ulster two points adrift at the break; 1-10 to 3-6.

Chrissy McKaigue could hardly do with any more playing time given his commitments with Slaughtneil, but he nonetheless was introduced as a half-time substitute.

However, he lasted 70 seconds before he was black carded for a third-man tackle on Fintan Cregg. A neat twist of fate came when he was replaced by clubmate Brendan Rogers.

With the extra cover, the Ulster defence seemed much more at ease now that they had dispensed with an 'open' game.

Now, they were able to choke space and get a running game going, while running a bench considerably stronger than Connacht with the formidable Mattie Donnelly being introduced for the last quarter.

Connacht had two points from play in the first five minutes through Murtagh and fellow Rossie Enda Smith, but could only add two more for the rest of the game.

In the 40th minute, a Niall Morgan kickout found Declan McCusker who sensibly took a 'mark'. Under no pressure, he was able to kickpass to Corrigan who had captain Eoin Donnelly off his shoulder. This time, Vernon took the ball on and a burst of pace took him beyond the last defender and he roofed a shot to the net.

That was the first time Ulster had the lead in the match and serious traction, with Vernon adding a point straight after. Breen started and finished his own move with a point, Peter Harte controlled the tempo of the attacks and weighed in with pointed frees.

The last 10 minutes fizzled out as Ulster closed the game out with an extended example of possession football.

Ulster: N Morgan (Tyrone); M Jones (Fermanagh), K Clarke (Cavan), D O'Hagan (Down); T McCann (Tyrone), C Moynagh (Cavan), A Breen (Fermanagh) 1-2; E Donnelly (Fermanagh), C Vernon (Armagh) 1-1; K Niblock (Antrim), P Harte (Tyrone) 0-5, 4f, E Lynn (Derry) 0-3; N Sludden (Tyrone), S Campbell (Armagh) 0-1, T Corrigan (Fermanagh) 0-4, 2f.

Subs used: R Johnston (Down) for Niblock (28 mins), C McKaigue (Derry) for Moynagh (30 mins), D McCusker (Fermanagh) for Clarke (38 mins), M Donnelly (Tyrone) for Campbell (44 mins), T Kernan (Armagh) for Vernon (55 mins), N McKeever (Antrim for Lynn (58mins)

Black cards: McKaigue (31, replaced by B Rogers (Derry)

Connacht: D Clarke (Mayo); K McDonnell (Sligo), J Duane (Galway), D Wynne (Galway); N Daly (Roscommon), G O'Donnell (Galway), J Heaney (Galway); E Smith (Roscommon) 0-1, K Higgins (Roscommon); F Cregg (Roscommon), D Cummins (Galway) 0-1, C Murtagh (Roscommon) 2-03, 1f; N Murphy (Sligo), D Comer (Galway) 1-1, J Doherty (Mayo) 0-2, 2f)

Subs used: P Conroy (Galway) 0-1, 1f for Cummins (12 mins), D Wrynn (Leitrim) for Higgins (44 mins), G Bradshaw (Galway) for Doherty (49 mins), E Mulligan (Leitrim) 0-1, 1f for Conroy (52 mins), J McManus (Roscommon) for McDonnell (53 mins), D Murtagh (Roscommon) for Murphy (57 mins), C O'Shea (Mayo) for Smith (59 mins)

Yellow cards: Wynne (19), Cregg (36)

Referee: P O'Sullivan (Kerry)

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