Champions last in 2013, UCC lost the semi-final a year later as their quest for three-in-a-row ended at the penultimate hurdle.
They haven’t progressed beyond the group stages since but moved to within touching distance of a home quarter-final with a gritty victory against UCD in yesterday’s heavyweight Belfield clash.
In what can only be described as atrocious weather conditions, UCC held their nerve to overturn a five-point interval deficit, to win by three.
UCD, battling against the elements, were held scoreless in the second half as UCC did enough at the other end of the pitch.
On a better day, this could have been a classic but driving wind and rain put paid to any thoughts of good hurling.
Instead, the game developed into a war of attrition, pockmarked by poor striking, shooting and rucks.
UCC coped best and had a crucial second half goal from Waterford’s Mark O’Brien, which hauled them level at 1-5 each.
From there, UCC never looked back as their former hero, the current UCD boss Nicky English, was left disappointed.
UCD got off to a brilliant start when Waterford’s DJ Foran netted in the first minute and by half-time, English’s men were 1-5 to 0-3 clear.
Foran added to his goal with three points – all from placed balls – as Dublin’s Cian Mac Gabhann chipped in with a brace.
UCC had two points from Cork’s Rob O’Shea in the opening half, one a free, and a James O’Flynn effort.
As the elements played a real part, every score would prove crucial and the visitors dug in to play ‘damage limitation’ in the first half.
After the break, UCC then took a firm stranglehold on proceedings, eventually getting level before moving clear.
Alan Cadogan’s early-season form has been excellent and after scoring the injury-time goal that the sealed Co-Op Superstores.ie Munster senior hurling league crown for Cork last Sunday, he was good again here.
Cadogan kick-started the second half scoring with a neat point before turning provider for Gavin O’Brien, who picked off a valuable score.
Now within touching distance, UCC smelled blood and when O’Brien drilled home a final goal from an acute angle with 17 minutes left, the visitors were level.
There would be only one winner from that moment, as UCC hit the front for the first time in the game when substitute Chris O’Leary pointed with his first involvement after entering the fray from a muddy touchline.
There was plenty of time left for UCC to make sure and that they did, as Rob O’Shea (free) and goalscorer O’Brien added points to close the game out.
With a fixture against Maynooth University to come, UCC should do enough to secure a maximum return from the group. And with home advantage at the quarter-final stage, anything is possible.
Days like yesterday make potential champions and after coming through a real test of character, UCC will feel they can make a real impact at the business end.
M O’Brien 1-1, R O’Shea 0-3 (2f), A Cadogan, J O’Flynn, G O’Brien & C O’Leary 0-1 each.
DJ Foran 1-3 (0-2f, 0-1 65), C Mac Gabhann 0-2.
D Desmond (Cork); I Kenny (Waterford), C Spillane (Cork), S Roche (Waterford); S Kennedy (Tipperary), C Gleeson (Waterford), R Cahalane (Cork); J Barron (Waterford), M Breen (Tipperary); M O’Brien (Waterford), T Devine (Waterford), G O’Brien (Waterford); A Cadogan (Cork), J O’Flynn (Cork), R O’Shea (Cork).
C O’Leary (Cork) for Breen (47), A Spillane (Cork) for O’Flynn (51), E Gunning (Cork) for C Spillane (55), C Roche (Waterford) for G O’Brien (56).
D Holohan (Kilkenny); E Hayden (Waterford), P Hannon (Galway), C MacGabhann (Dublin); H Lawlor (Kilkenny), T de Búrca (Waterford), C Buckley (Kilkenny); C O’Callaghan (Dublin), J O’Connor (Wexford); J Maher (Kilkenny), C Cronin (Dublin), P Guinan (Offaly); O O’Rorke (Dublin), L Scanlon (Kilkenny), DJ Foran (Waterford).
S Quirke (Tipperary) for O’Rorke (28), J.J. Ryan (Tipperary) for Maher (48), B Quigley (Wexford) for Mac Gabhann (53), T Phelan (Kilkenny) for Guinan (57).
A Devine (Westmeath)