But, by the skin of their teeth, using all the considerable experience gained during their championship wins in 1999 and 2000, Ahane managed to hold on, and escape with a barely-deserved victory.
It was close though, and at the end, Kilmallock’s young corner-forward Andrew O’Shaughnessy had every right to feel disgusted as he trotted off the field. Had whistle-happy referee Sean Hannon not been so premature on a couple of occasions, calling back play to award frees when the most dangerous forward on the pitch had broken clear, O’Shaughnessy could have completed a hat-trick to add to the fine opportunist goal he notched just before the break.
The first half was a dismal affair. Playing with the strong breeze, Ahane slugged their way to a half-time lead of 0-8 to 1-1, the Moran brothers Niall and James with a brace each, combining with free-taker John Meskell who had three, and wing-forward Alan Doherty.
In reply, a hugely-disappointing Kilmallock had a solitary point to their name for most of the first half, a 7th minute free from former county star Mike Houlihan.
The best hope they had was to try and get the ball to county minor and U21 star O’Shaughnessy, which they finally did in the 31st minute. Deep in the right corner, he first used his surprising strength to fend off his marker, picked out midfielder Mike O’Riordan with a beautiful crossfield ball.
Ahane keeper Finbarr McCarthy saved O’Riordan’s well-struck shot, but O’Shaughnessy, having raced in from the corner, was there to finish.
Just four points between them, the breeze to come, it was certain that the Kilmallock danger-man would see much more ball in the second half, and so it proved. Struggling to regain the sort of fluent authority that saw them win those two county titles in succession, and despite scoring two early points, from Joe O’Grady and inter-county defender Clem Smith, Ahane were under the cosh for most of the second period.
Three pointed frees by O’Shaughnessy (two fouls on himself, after one of which he had the ball in the Ahane net) saw the south Limerick side just two points behind on 42 minutes, and signs of panic in the Ahane defence.
Those signs became reality just two minutes later when a long pass from Houlihan picked out Paddy Connery in splendid isolation inside the Ahane 20m line. The full-forward drew the only defender in position, passed to Paudge Tobin, and the veteran billowed the net from 10 metres, to give Kilmallock the lead for the first time.
When pacy corner-forward Liam Neenan added to that lead with a good point a minute later, the momentum was very firmly with Kilmallock, and a surprise looked on the cards.
Credit to Ahane for re-grouping however, team captain Ollie Moran to the fore, and a couple of points, from Niall Moran and free-taker Meskell, tied it up again with five minutes to go.
Kilmallock again crept into the lead, a point from Connery, negated again by Meskell, and as the game entered injury-time, it looked like the teams would get another day out, another opportunity to redeem themselves.
For the fact however that Ahane do, and they don’t, Kilmallock have only themselves to blame. Pressing for the lead score, O’Shaughnessy opted to square a scoreable free to wing-forward Ciaran O’Dwyer, who failed to control.
Neenan then got trapped in possession and when he would have been better advised to centre, the ball was cleared to the other end where one sub, Turlough Herbert opted for the high lob. The break was then won by another late Ahane sub Brian Healy who just got his stick in ahead of Kilmallock keeper Tom Hennessey.
Just, but enough, and even as Ollie Moran broke up the final, desperate, Kilmallock attack with a brave catch in his own square, it was probably also just enough that, based on the whole hour’s performance, Ahane go through. Not impressive, however, not impressive at all.
Scorers for Ahane: J. Meskell 0-5 (0-4 frees); N. Moran 0-3 (0-1 free); D. Murrihy 1-0; J. Moran 0-2; A. Doherty, J. O’Grady, C. Smith, 0-1 each.
Kilmallock: A. O’Shaughnessy 1-4 (0-4 frees); P. Tobin 1-0; L. Neenan, P. Connery, M. Houlihan (65), 0-1 each.
AHANE: F. McCarthy; A. Collins, M. Fitzgerald, D. Fitzgerald; B. Meskell, C. O’Reilly, A. Smith; O. Moran, J. Meskell; A. Doherty, N. Moran, C. Smith; J. O’Grady, J. Moran, P. Ryan. Subs: S. O’Connor (Doherty 42); T. Herbert (A. Smith 47); B. Healy (O’Grady 53).
KILMALLOCK: T. Hennessey; D. O’Mahony, M. Cronin, J. Connery; D. Clarke, P. O’Dwyer, B. Carroll; M. Houlihan, M. O’Riordan; C. O’Dwyer, P. Connery, S. Burchill; A. O’Shaughnessy, P. Tobin, L. Neenan. Subs: K. O’Mahony (Burchill 56); blood sub - E. McGuire (O’Riordan 60/61).
Referee: S. Hannon (Kildimo).