The holders made the most of their early dominance to open up a seven-point lead at the break, but a major improvement from the students — inspired by two goals from Cork starlet Seamus Harnedy — turned the game on its head at Páirc Uí Rinn.
Sars started smartly, opening up an early three-point gap and really took control after the first of three Harnedy goals had levelled the scores.
With both teams including two members of Cork’s starting 15, Daniel Kearney was first to make an impact, forming a solid midfield partnership for Sarsfields with Wexford player Eoin Quigley.
Tom Curren and Robert O’Shea gave UCC encouragement with quick points.
However, as the game progressed, and Sarsfields further settled, Michael Cussen emerged as a key figure for them at corner-forward, unbeatable in the air, decisive in his shooting and distributing the ball cleverly.
Cian McCarthy at centre-forward was also influential, along with Ray Ryan at centre-back, while Conor O’Sullivan was typically dependable against corner-forward Jack Ahern, who, along with William Griffin, showed up best in the College attack.
With Sarsfields turning over 0-14 to 1-4 in front, the game changed radically in a matter of five minutes after Harnedy — now operating at the edge of the square — went through for two goals. Gradually the students achieved a significant improvement all over the field, with William Egan excelling after moving to centre-back and, even more importantly, Colm Spillane doing a splendid job in almost totally eliminating the threat being posed by Cussen.
Then, following a fourth UCC goal, from substitute Jamie Barron in the 45th minute, Sarsfields’ lead was reduced to a single point.
In response, the champions again lifted their standard, with a magnificent point from Cian McCarthy followed by one from Tadgh Óg Murphy, before McCarthy expertly put over two frees to open up a five-point gap.
But UCC were far from finished, replying with three points in as many minutes before Jack Ahern produced their fifth goal to put them a point clear.
Harnedy followed quickly with a point but, with time running out, Sarsfields were given hope when they won a close-in free in the last minute of normal time.
McCarthy tried for goal but the ball was deflected over the bar. A second free from about 50 yards then sailed over as Sars lived to fight again.
Scorers for Sarsfields: C McCarthy 1-7 (0-4f), M Cussen 0-3, D Kearney, K Murphy (1f), E O’Sullivan and T Óg Murphy 0-2 each, G O’Loughlin, E Quigley and C Leahy 0-1 each.
Scorers for UCC: S Harnedy 3-1, J Ahern 1-3 (0-2f); J Barron 1-0, T Curran, R O’Shea, Brian Lawton, W Griffin and Barry Lawton 0-1 each.
SARSFIELDS: A Kennedy; G O’Kelly Lynch, J Barry, C O’Sullivan; W Kearney, R Ryan, C Leahy; D Kearney, E Quigley; T Óg Murphy, C McCarthy, G O’Loughlin; E O’Sullivan, K Murphy, M Cussen.
Subs: D Roche for O’Loughlin (49), E Martin for Quigley (51).
UCC: P O’Brien (St Ita’s, capt); B Cleary (Knockainey), D Glynn (Dicksboro), C Spillane (Castlelyons); J Barry (Upperchurch Drombane), P Prendergast (Lismore), W Egan (Kilbrin); T Curren (Ballinameala), R O’Shea (Carrigaline); Barry Lawton (Castlemartyr), Brian Lawton (Castlemartyr), S Harnedy (St Ita’s); W Griffin (Adare) M Sugrue (Bandon), J Ahern (Killeedy).
Subs: J Barron (Fourmilewater) for Sugrue (ht).
Referee: Colm Lyons (Nemo R).