However, there was no doubting the manner in which Sarsfields battled to victory, with match winner Jack O’Connor leading them home as the teenage forward fired a rasping goal from a tight angle coming down the home straight.
It was a score they badly needed just as the game was petering out. Having reached the semi-final last year and falling to eventual county champions Imokilly after a replay, Sarsfields would have been favourites. But, they had to use all their guile and experience to get over this one.
Despite falling seven points behind, Ballyhea who have enjoyed a good league, came alive in the second-half and came agonisingly close after bringing the deficit down to one with five minutes remaining.
Sarsfields manager Brian Roche was relieved to overcome such a stern test: “Any championship win is a good win. We have had troubles here at this venue in the past. It is a monkey off our back. But it was a stuttering start, I felt our form was better this time last year. Maybe it has got to do with the availability of our inter-county players, we have five players in there and we haven’t seen much of them at all.
“We have had a third of our team in training with Cork, and we have had only three training sessions with the lads. I can understand the inter-county managers, everything boils down to May for them. I personally don’t think the club championship should be staged in April, that they should be with the county.”
Sarsfields got stuck in from the start. They shot six points to Ballyhea’s one in the first quarter. Aaron Myers, James Sweeney and Tadhg Óg Murphy the providers up front, while Daniel Kearney was in top form at midfield and struck three great points from far out.
The Ballyhea defence were kept on their toes, and they had to work hard too at the other end for scores. John Morrissey and Pa O’Callaghan rowing in with two – O’Callaghan’s was a spectacular effort from over the shoulder. There was no let-up from Sarsfields who pushed further ahead with Myers and William Kearney obliging.
Ballyhea finished the half strongly. Eugene O’Leary grabbed possession and headed for goal, and while Alan Kennedy got a stick to his shot, it trickled over the line. Ballyhea back in the game, now just two adrift. A Myers point handed Sarsfields a 0-9 to 1-3 interval lead.
Ballyhea, who must play Ballymartle next, will reflect ruefully on a slow start to that first-half. They were slow out of the blocks again in the second-half as Sarsfields raced seven clear courtesy of Myers (2), Daniel Roche and Daniel Kearney.
Two O’Sullivan points, one from Gavin Morrissey and an O’Callaghan free and suddenly the north Cork side were beginning to get on top. Midway through the second-half, they had steadied the ship somewhat, trailing 0-15 to 1-8. A Myers free momentarily upset their rhythm but they got going again and drilled over the next four points on the trot.
O’Callaghan delivered two from placed balls while O’Leary and John Morrissey found the target too, 0-16 to 1-12, and Mikey Browne played his part denying dangerman O’Connor. Substitute Luke Hackett came in and extended the Sarsfields lead to two points, and while there were nervous moments, they did manage to get the required result.
O’Connor’s late goal was decisive. Ballyhea pulled a point back but they could get no closer.
Sarsfields were made to sweat in those hectic closing stages by a resilient Ballyhea but they held out and closed in style with points from their two leading scorers, Myers and O’Connor.
A Myers (0-7, 0-5 frees), J O’Connor (1-2), D Kearney (0-4), T Óg Murphy (0-2), J Sweeney, L Hackett, D Roche and W Kearney (0-1 each).
P O’Callaghan (0-5, 0-4 frees), E O’Leary (1-1), M O’Sullivan and J Morrissey (0-3 each), G Morrissey (0-1).
A Kennedy; W Kearney (Capt), C Leahy, C O’Sullivan; E Murphy, G Grey, P Leopold; D Roche, D Kearney; A Myers, T Óg Murphy, J Sweeney; L Healy, G O’Loughlin, J O’Connor.
L Hackett for L Healy (45), D English for G Grey (53), T Murphy for D Roche (53).
M Browne; A Barrett, M Morrissey, L Hanley; J McCarthy, L O’Connor, J Copps; B Coleman, C Cox; P O’Callaghan, G Morrissey, J Morrissey; T Hanley, M O’Sullivan (Capt), E O’Leary.
D Copps for C Cox (40), O O’Sullivan for M Morrissey (50 inj).
Joe Larkin (Ballinora).