Garryspillane were always going to have to produce something special to win this one and they almost did as Ahane took their foot off the pedal in the closing minutes of an entertaining semi-final that was not the one-sided affair many expected.
It was O’Connor’s injury time goal that separated the sides (1-8 to 0-8) at the end of a close first half.
The Garryspillane defence was caught flat-footed as the wing forward raced through for a point-blank shot at goal. Darren Hayes saved valiantly but he was caught on the wrong foot when O’Connor, gifted a second chance, hammered the ball to the net.
Much was expected from Ahane who impressed throughout the earlier rounds of the competition and went into this game on the back of a runaway quarter-final victory over Doon.
Sharpshooting Niall Moran opened their account but it became clear Garryspillane were not going to let them out of their sights and matched them point for point throughout the opening half.
Wing forward Donie Ryan scored a brilliant point from an acute angle to level the game and then centre-forward Pat Tobin, with the first of his two points, put Garryspillane clear and they hung on defiantly as Eoin Burke, who did not start the game on account of injury, Paul O’Connor, David Laing and Niall Moran drove over some nice points for Ahane.
Garryspillane full-forward, TJ Ryan, almost had the ball in the net at the start of the second half but it appeared as if the entire full-back line — taken by surprise — managed to get behind it.
Referee, Aidan Ryan, threw the ball in to sort the situation and when centre forward Niall Moran, who was back to help out in this sector, was fouled and he attempted to clear the free, relieved the pressure.
Johnny Meskell collected the ball from the free, passed to half-time substitute Cormac Joyce-Power, who drove over a point and two further points from Niall Moran (free), Seanie O’Connor and Paul O’Connor opened up a-six point lead in favour of Ahane.
Then the game took a new twist as Garryspillane, with David Ryan, Colm Hickey and Tom O’Donnell driving forward from the half back line, took control and three points in quick succession from TJ Ryan (two from frees) had the margin down to three.
A silly free gave Niall Moran the opportunity to add a point for Ahane and when TJ Ryan pointed again they gave away two more frees which Niall Moran pointed and, just for good measure, he drove over a great point from long range to put six points between the sides once again.
Ahane were coasting into the final minutes of the game when TJ Ryan (2) and Donie Ryan hit them with points to set up a nailbiting finish.
Scorers for Ahane: N. Moran 0-9 (0-6 frees), S. O’Connor 1-1, P. O’Connor 0-3, F. Aherne, D. Laing, S. Madden and C. Joyce-Power 0-1 each.
Scorers for Gallyspillane: T. J. Ryan 0-7 (0-4 frees), David Ryan (frees), T. Ryan and P. Tobin 0-2 each, C. Hickey, T. O’Donnell, E. Bourke, B. O’Donnell 0-1 each.
AHANE: T. Flynn; D. Madden, D. Fitzgerald, M. Carr; C. O’Reilly, O. Moran, A. Smith; J. Meskell, F. Aherne; D. Laing, N. Moran, S. O’Connor; B. Healy, S. Madden, P. O’Connor.
Subs: C. Joyce-Power for B. Healy (H.T.), C. Smith for S. Madden (46 mins), T. Hayes for F. Aherne (54 mins), C. Quirke for D. Laing (57 mins).
GARRYSPILLANE: D. Hayes; A. Noonan, J. Sheehan, M. O’Brien; C. Hickey, David Ryan, T. O’Donnell; J. Ryan, S. Bourke; E. Bourke, P. Tobin, Donie Ryan; B. O’Donnell, T. J. Ryan, V. O’Connell. Subs: D. Hayes for E. Bourke (49 mins), E. Corbett for B. O’Donnell (52 mins).
Referee: Aidan Ryan (Na Piarsaigh).