Full-back Rob Keogh came to reigning champions Clontarf’s rescue as his late penalty saw them edge past UCD 22-20 at the Belfield Bowl.
This was a repeat of last season's Division 1A semi-final and a league debut for new UCD head coach Andy Skehan, who gave starts to Ireland Sevens international Harry McNulty and Ireland Under-20 captain James Ryan (newly signed from Lansdowne).
Clontarf wasted little time in hitting the front. Winger Rob McGrath turned a loose ball midway through the 'Tarf half into a superbly-taken breakaway try, and five points soon followed from Rob Keogh's reliable right boot, including a central penalty for obstruction.
Keogh then watched his long range place-kick come back off the crossbar after the north Dubliners had forced a penalty at a scrum. The set piece was a real area of strength for the visitors, with Connacht lock Mick Kearney partnering skipper Ben Reilly in the engine room.
However, UCD found their rhythm entering the second quarter, winger Cillian Burke slotting a terrific penalty from the right wing and then converting Stephen Murphy's try which saw the centre open up a gap with a clever dummy that saw slip by the covering Matt D'Arcy.
That made it 10-all for half-time, and it was tit-for-tat in the early part of the second half. Danger men Mick McGrath and Adam Byrne were unleashed off the respective benches, but neither player was allowed to make much of an impact. A ruck penalty saw Keogh add to his tally before a midfield break from McNulty teed up a response from Burke.
The momentum was with the students after Ireland U-20 flanker Greg Jones broke off the back of a well-executed lineout maul to reach over for a try, with Burke continuing his excellent form with the boot for 20-13.
But 'Tarf showed their winning mentality in a nail-biting conclusion. Two more penalties from Keogh, either side of a yellow card for UCD prop Liam Hyland, made it a one-point game with 10 minutes remaining.
Both Burke and Keogh were off target in the windier conditions before the latter made no mistake with a final place-kick to bring the points back across the Liffey.
Referee: Eddie Hogan O'Connell (IRFU)