Last week they required extra-time against DIT to progress and this tie looked to be heading in a similar direction in the closing minutes.
As was the case in their opening round win substitute Barry O’Driscoll again proved UCC’s main man in front of goal.
The Nemo Rangers man, who has been hampered by a thigh injury, entered the fray in the second-half and announced his arrival with a splendid 44th minute point, stepping off the right and knocking confidently over with his left. His other point was more crucial, a long-range missile in injury-time that proved to be the match-winner.
In a tense, low-scoring match like this, every point was vital, but UCC’s ability to whip an attacker of O’Driscoll’s calibre off the bench proved decisive.
UCC’s second-half recovery was notable, but NUIG will have regrets at how they fell at their opening Sigerson Cup hurdle. They overcame a debilitating start, where UCC inspired by David O’Callaghan, led 0-3 to 0-0 after seven minutes, to control the remainder of the half.
As the half progressed Seán Armstrong began to emerge as NUIG’s go-to guy near goal. The Galway senior lived up to that billing with two magical points from distance in the opening 20 minutes. It was difficult to attribute blame to UCC defender Eoin Hegarty though, particularly in the 18th minute when he forced him wide to the right touchline only for Armstrong to still convert.
UCC did switch Eoin Cotter onto Armstrong soon after and while he got to grips with him, the NUIG attacker was still the fulcrum of their offensive play in the second-half.
NUIG held a 1-4 to 0-4 advantage at half-time thanks to a splendidly manufactured 14th minute goal. A slick passing build-up involving Neil Ewing and Kieran Conroy, who both had impressive games, saw them cut through the UCC defence and wing-forward Cathal Kenny fired to the top corner. They could have goaled again before the break but Ken O’Halloran made a terrific block to deny Cathal McHugh, yet Ewing’s glorious long-range point left NUIG buoyant entering the second-half.
The scrappy nature of the match continued in the second-half but UCC’s rearguard was more resolute and with Adrian Greaney and Michael Shields driving them on, they interspersed their hard work with some lovely third quarter scores. Daithí Casey clipped over a free, O’Driscoll bagged another and the equaliser from Sean Kiely was a marvellous shot under pressure in the 45th minute.
NUIG wrestled back the initiative when substitute John Connellan engineered space to swing over a point that put them one ahead with 10 to go.
But UCC held their nerve, and in a frantic finale which saw O’Callaghan (UCC) and Kenny (NUIG) both dismissed for striking offences, it was the Cork side who advanced to face GMIT in the last eight.
Scorers for UCC: D Casey 0-3 (0-2f), D O’Callaghan, B O’Driscoll 0-2 each, S Hayes, S Kiely 0-1 each.
Scorers for NUIG: C Kenny 1-0, S Armstrong 0-2, C Healy, N Ewing, J Connellan 0-1 each.
UCC: K O’Halloran (Cork); E Cotter (Cork), E Hegarty (Cork), S Enright (Kerry); D Limrick (Cork), A Greaney (Kerry), P Corrigan (Limerick); M Shields (Cork), J Buckley (Kerry); D O’Callaghan (Kerry), M Collins (Cork), S Kiely (Cork); D Kearney (Cork), D Casey (Kerry), P Honohan (Cork).
Subs: S Hayes (Cork) for Kearney (inj) (7), B O’Driscoll (Cork) for Honohan (37), M Griffin (Kerry) for Collins (50), K O’Driscoll (Cork) for Kiely (52), P Crowley (Kerry) for Limrick (58)
NUIG: L Grant (Donegal); C O’Connor (Galway), D Finnegan (Galway), C McDonald (Tipperary); N Ewing (Sligo), G Bradshaw (Galway), C Leyden (Galway); K Conroy (Mayo), P McGee (Donegal); S Stenson (Sligo), C McHugh (Roscommon), C Kenny (Galway); J Doherty (Mayo), C Healy (Galway), S Armstrong (Galway).
Subs: A Glynn (Galway) for Leyden (37), J Connellan (Westmeath) for Doherty (42), D Duffy (Westmeath) for McGee (47), C Mimnagh (Longford) for McHugh (52), D O’Gara (Roscommon) for Stenson (60).
Referee: Maurice Condon (Waterford).