Trailing by two points at the three-quarter stage, UL, inspired by the excellence of midfielders Richie Murray and Niall Moran, hit four points without reply to fashion a victory they just about deserved.
The talent on both sides ensured a lively contest and after an indifferent first half at the end of which UL led 0-5 to 0-3, the second half developed into a rousing contest as UCC edged in front only to overhauled by the more experienced champions.
Both defences excelled and there was only one real goal chance, which fell to UCC’s Mark O’Connor early in the second half.
However, his effort was superbly saved by UL ‘keeper Alan Franks. Mick O’Hara, John Divane, Brian Geary, Richie Murray, Niall Moran, David Forde and Brian Carroll hurled well for the winners.
UCC, who lacked physical strength in a number of areas, can be very pleased with the performances of Paudie Gilmartin, Ronan McGregor, Tommy Walsh, Michael Rice, who led the Kilkenny minors to All-Ireland honours last year, Colin Morrissey and Jim McDonnell.
Scores were scarce in a close first half and after UL led 0-3 to 0-2 at the end of the opening quarter, the superb long-range free-taking of Galway senior Richie Murray left his side 0-5 to 0-3 at the interval.
Despite losing the services of Jonathan Olden early with a groin injury, UCC were on level terms after 40 minutes after Mark O’Connor pointed two frees.
It might have been more but for that great save by Alan Franks from the same player, but the Cork students continued to press hard and by the end of the third quarter had crept two points in front, with UL yet to score in the second half.
Only some great defending by UCC’s goalkeeper Richie O’Neill and Ronan McGregor denied UL a goal in the 47th minute but the Limerick students drew level with 10 minutes to go to set up a grandstand finish.
Credit to both sides, who went all-out for the win. Despite the bitter cold, the exchanges were extremely keen, but UL’s greater stickwork became a telling factor.
Richie Murray’s superb long-range free taking earned him two marvellous points to edge his side in front but the Cork students refused to give up the chase and were given a chance to win it with two minutes to go when Jim McDonnell was fouled.
From the resultant 20-metre free, Mark O’Connor, prompted from the sideline, took his point, and despite a couple of late scares, UL hung on for the win which only whets the appetite for what’s to come in the championship.
Scorers for UL: R. Murray 0-4 (frees); B. Carroll 0-3 (0-1 free); D. Forde 0-2; N. Moran, K. Burke 0-1 each.
UCC: M. O’Connor 0-6 (frees); J. McDonnell 0-3; C. Morrissey 0-1.
UL: A. Franks; M. O’Hara, J. Devane, B. O’Mahony; M. Maher, B. Geary, C. McGann; N. Moran, R. Murray; B. Carroll, D. Gleeson, J. Gantley; K. Burke, D. Forde, D. Greene. Subs: G. Quinn for Gantley; T. Healy for McGann; S. Mason for Greene.
UCC: R. O’Neill; R. McGregor, P. Gilmartin, T. Walsh; R. McCarthy, J. Olden, K. Hartnett; M. Rice, C. Morrissey; M. Walsh, M. O’Connor, B. Carey; B. Phelan, J. McDonnell, S. Stapleton. Subs: D. O’Brien for Olden; S. Brick for Carey.
Referee: G. Haugh (Limerick).