A superb display of accurate point-scoring by Ireland's captain Neil McManus saw his side retain the Marine Harvest Quaich for the fifth time in a row yesterday,
A determined performance from Scotland gave the home crowd plenty to shout about in a match in which their chances of success were to some extent spoiled by the conditions. Inverness's Bught Park, after a week of rain, presented Drew McNeil's side with a heavy surface and grass just a little too long to let the ball run freely in their favour.
Scotland, chasing a six-point Irish lead from last week's game at Croke Park, started well, going ahead in the first minute when Kevin Bartlett popped over a two-pointer from a free hit awarded after a foul on Fraser Mackintosh. McManus brought Ireland level by the nine-minute mark with two single-point strikes, and Kilkenny's Ritchie Hogan put them briefly ahead before Bartlett restored Scotland's lead with another two-pointer.
From the start it was clear Ireland had switched tactics from last week when they gave Scotland space to play their passing game.
On this occasion, the Irish defenders gave Scotland no time to move the ball and were content to concede hit-ins which Bartlett, Scotland's top scorer, was able to convert regularly. Ireland also added singles from open play from MacManus, Hogan and Laois's Cahir Healy but with 25 minutes on the clock and leading 10-7, Scotland were just on top. Had they taken their chances the trophy could have been theirs.
The first disappointment for home fans came when Finlay Macrae burst through the Irish defence and laid the ball to Glen Mackintosh. His shot was well saved by Eoin Reilly and the follow-up was wayward. Next, a foul on Scotland half-forward Finlay Nicholson set up another chance, but the ball went wide.
A flare-up between Scotland's John Macrae and David English was defused by referee Deke Cameron, but when the tempo dropped Ireland took the chance to equalise with singles from Gareth "Magic" Johnston, Hogan and Kerry's Darragh O'Connell.
It took a single from Glen Mackintosh to send Scotland in at half-time with an 11-10 lead.
That, however was as good as it got. The Irish half-time team talk must have been good. Patrick Maher broke free in 61 minutes to score the only goal of the match, and, although Bartlett got Scotland back equal with a two-pointer, the balance had swung. Ireland began to work little triangles and for the first time ran at pace with the ball. Gradually they pulled away from Scotland with three more points from McManus and points from Johnson and Hogan. Scotland pushed defender John Barr forward to rectify matters, but a solitary point from new cap Connor Cormack was the best they could muster.
Afterwards Drew MacNeil, at the end of his two-year contract running the Scottish squad, was philosophical. "I could not have asked more of the lads. They gave everything they had - and unlike last week we gave nothing silly away. We just did not take the chances - and if you don't take your chances you do not win."