Eoghan Ruadh (Tír Eoghain) 2-20
Naomh Éanna (Aontroim) 2-20
*Naomh Éanna win 1-0 on penalties.
Naomh Éanna captain Cormac Ross hit the decisive penalty as his side capped a superb comeback victory to claim the Ulster IHC title in what was a thrilling encounter at Celtic Park in early winter sunshine.
Ross’ effort turned out to be the only score in the shootout as both sets of players found John Devlin and Martin Curran in superb form. The stoppers turned away all but two of the nine penalties taken and the latter’s save from Lorcan Devlin started the Naomh Éanna celebrations.
The Glengormley side had the lead with a 6th minute John McGoldrick goal but the first half belonged to the Red Hand men as they repeatedly turned the screw on the Naomh Éanna defence, who were struggling to find a suitable marker for Damian Casey.
Their approach paid dividends as two goals in as many minutes rocked the Antrim side back on their heels and saw them trailing by seven at half time, but the Hightown men gradually worked their way back into the game and a Ruairí Donaghy piledriver set up a frantic finish in which neither team could take control.
Eoghan Ruadh again had the better of the first period of extra time and opened a four-point lead but a crucial Eddie O’Connor score left three between them going into the second period and Naomh Éanna overturned the deficit going into the dying seconds.
Killian Jennings popped his side back into the lead in the 81st minute but with the Naomh Éanna defence penalised for overcarrying, Damian Casey sent the tie to penalties, where Ross’ penalty sealed the victory.
The Dungannon side had exploded to life in the early stages of the first half and went two up through points from Terry McIntosh and Damian Casey. John McGoldrick responded for Naomh Éanna but Brannán Molloy’s cheeky overhead flick and point gave Eoghan Ruadh a 0-03 to 0-01 lead after just five minutes of play.
McGoldrick then took advantage of John Devlin’s poor parried clearance, collecting possession and burying the sliotar into the top corner and when Ruairí Donaghy added his first of the day Naomh Éanna looked in control, but Eoghan Ruadh had other ideas.
A quickfire brace of Casey points left the sides level before Lorcan Devlin latched onto a batted Martin Curran clearance and hammered to the net to open a three-point gap and just two minutes later the Tyrone champions had the ball in the net again.
Tiernan Morgan’s crossfield ball found Kiefer Morgan, who rounded his man and found the bottom corner of Curran’s net. McGoldrick and Casey then traded points before Ruairí Donaghy narrowed the gap once again.
With the game flowing at a frenetic pace, Dungannon wrestled back control going into the final ten minutes of the half as points from Matthew Mulgrew and the impressive Casey left them six to the good and McGoldrick’s reply was soon cancelled out by a further Casey brace as his side entered the break leading by seven points.
Naomh Éanna introduced Matthew O’Hare at half time and struck first through a McGoldrick free that drew an immediate response from Damian Casey before midfielder Ruairí Donaghy raced through and rattled the top corner of John Devlin’s net to leave just four between the sides.
McIntosh and McGoldrick traded scores as the Naomh Éanna support lifted their voices in the strand and their efforts were rewarded as Cormac Ross and Matthew O’Hare both pointed to cut the deficit to two in the 47th minute.
The Hightown men were on top but wasteful and hit a number of wides as they failed to capitalise on their momentum and Tiernan Morgan restored the three-point cushion with an opportunist score off a breaking ball with seven minutes remaining.
The score though seemed to spur on Naomh Éanna and after McGoldrick replied from a free, it was O’Hare who was instrumental again, winning a puckout and feeding a raiding Joe Maskey who pointed from under the stand.
Another McGoldrick free levelled matters as the game entered the last five minutes but they were hit with a sucker punch two minutes later as the Naomh Éanna defence left Tiernan Morgan in acres of space to take a short free from Casey and point.
McGoldrick again levelled the score on 59 minutes before the normally unerring free-taker spurned two opportunities to put his side ahead from long-range frees. O’Hare followed with a wide of his own from play and the nerves were also affecting Dungannon’s Casey who dropped a 64th minute free wide to signal extra time.
Naomh Éanna almost hit the net within seconds of extra time beginning, Darragh Cooper fielding Philly Curran’s long ball but flashing his effort across Devlin’s goal and Damian Casey punished the profligacy by reeling off 0-04 from frees as the north Belfast side’s discipline threatened to sink them.
The Antrim men were in desperate need of a score and it came through Eddie O’Connor, collecting a pass from an under-pressure John McGoldrick and looping it over under pressure from the Eoghan Ruadh defence.
O’Connor then began the second period of extra time by feeding O’Hare to cut the Dungannon lead to two, but Casey replied with a 65 to cancel out O’Connor’s effort as Eoghan Ruadh attempted to stay in front.
Cormac Ross’ influence at this stage of the game was inspirational, the captain winning every break in half back and driving forward and after one of his raids drew a free, McGoldrick restored the two-point gap.
With three minutes remaining, Darragh Cooper again went close to a goal but his shot drifted wide of the goal, but points from Ross and Ruairí Donaghy levelled the game in the 78th minute, before Naomh Éanna took the lead with the game entering stoppage time.
Darragh Cooper again fielded Ruairí Donaghy’s high ball, handing it out to Killian Jennings who tapped over to delirious roars from the Naomh Éanna sideline, but there was to be a late sting in the tail as Damian Casey converted a free in front of the stand to signal the penalty shootout.
The Tyrone star winced as Martin Curran turned away his first effort and after Cormac Ross capitalised by finishing his shot, no one else would find the net and Curran’s save from Lorcan Devlin sparked the celebrations.
An incredible first Ulster title for Naomh Éanna who also picked up the Ulster IFC title last season. They’ll now have a bit of a break before an All-Ireland Semi-Final as they look to surpass the efforts of their footballers and go all the way to an All-Ireland title next year.
Eoghan Ruadh: John Devlin, Conor McNally, Mark Winters, Sean Donaghy, Josh Ferguson, Stephen Donnelly, Duibhir Marshall, Lorcan Devlin (1-00), Tiernan Morgan (0-02), Martin Devlin, Terry McIntosh (0-02), Branán Molloy (0-01), Matthew Mulgrew (0-01), Damian Casey (0-04, 08f), Kiefer Morgan (1-01).
Subs: Ruairí Devlin for Mark Winters 49’, Pádraig McHugh for Martin Devlin 62’.
Naomh Éanna: Martin Curran, Niall O’Connor, Rían Gillen, Ruairí Diamond, Cormac Ross (0-01), Mark Donaghy, Joe Maskey (0-01), Ryan Bogue, Ruairí Donaghy (1-03), Phillip Curran, Manus Mullan, Cormac Jennings, John McGoldrick (1-02, 0-08f, 0-01 – 65), Darrach Cooper, Killian Jennings (0-01).
Subs: Matthew O’Hare (0-02) for Manus Mullan HT, Ruairí Crummey for Killian Jennings 44’, Eddie O’Connor (0-01) for Cormac Jennings 51, Killian Jennings for Mark Donaghy 70’.
Referee: Tarlach Conway – St Colm’s Ballinascreen (Doire)
Man of the Match: Ruairí Donaghy – Naomh Éanna.