An injury-time converted try from winger Michael McGrath proved crucial for Clontarf in Saturday’s Division 1B clash with UCC at the Mardyke.
UCC were looking for another big scalp after beating Lansdowne and Buccaneers in their two most recent home games. They missed a penalty in the opening minutes from centre Andrew Burke.
It was Bernard Jackman's men who set the early pace and a converted try from scrum half Sam Cronin, whose half-back partner Noel Reid also kicked a penalty, had them 10-0 ahead by half-time.
Cronin was scoring against his former club, pouncing after an excellent maul drive from his forwards. He captained UCC in the 2008/09 season, and was a lively presence for 'Tarf in the opening half.
UCC had their full-back Willie Walsh sin-binned but they went close to scoring a try in the 22nd minute, knocking with the line just metres away. Burke also failed to convert a second penalty opportunity.
The second period was a much more even contest. Tries from out-half Johnny Holland (49 minutes) and Andy O'Leary (67) saw the Cork students finish off some excellent work from their pack.
O'Leary's score was the best of the lot as the UCC backs moved the ball at pace and some strong running led to the winger dotting down in the corner. Burke, who also kicked a penalty, watched his conversion attempt come back off a post.
That left UCC hanging onto a 15-10 lead, but a last-gasp seven-pointer from winger Michael McGrath was enough for 'Tarf to dramatically take the match points back to Dublin.
They won a penalty on halfway which full-back Daragh O'Shea dispatched to touch. They won another closer in and opted for a scrum.
Replacements Paul O'Donohoe and Martin Dufficy then combined to send McGrath slaloming his way past two defenders on the right and in behind the posts in the seventh minute of injury-time.
Dufficy added the all-important two points to dash UCC's hopes of a big scalp and help 'Tarf take an important step towards promotion and a possible play-off spot.
With Buccs losing at home to UL Bohemians, 'Tarf's lead at the summit now stands at nine points. The losing bonus point has moved UCC up to sixth place ahead of their trip to UL Bohemians next Saturday.
Referee: Michael Black (IRFU)