UCC heaved a huge sigh of relief in their attempts to remain in energia All-Ireland League Division 1B with a critical victory, inspired by the brilliance of captain Louis Bruce, at the Mardyke on Saturday.
College trailed five times during a game of 10 tries, four yellow cards before finishing in a welter of excitement as the Students scored 15 unanswered points to snatch a priceless victory, earning them a maximum five points to their opponents’ solitary one.
It moved them eight clear of Banbridge with three games remaining and every chance of avoiding the dreaded end-of-season promotion/relegation play-offs though nothing is guaranteed just yet.
UCC are still eighth in the standings with Malone at the bottom just one adrift of their Ulster rivals in what’s shaping to be a hectic climax to the season, especially with Malone travelling to play College in the final game.
Bruce was the catalyst, moving from full-back to out-half after Cian Whooley went off injured in the 25th minute.
Apart from contributing a magnificent 24 points, Bruce marshalled the team superbly, varying his game intelligently and using clever little dinks into space which caused Banbridge endless problems.
With five minutes regulation time remaining and College 31-34 in arrears, Bruce showed real leadership by slotting an equalising penalty before crossing for his second try three minutes later and then stroking a well-judged kick for wing Matthew O’Callaghan to seal victory with the sixth try, converted by Bruce.
The home side led 24-13 at the end of a breathless and eventful opening half. Banbridge led on three occasions following a couple of James Humphreys penalties and a try from flanker Robin Sinton with Mark Bissessar claiming the first home try.
College capitalised on the first yellow to number 8 Greg Jones for his challenge on Whooley, outscoring their opponents 17-3 with the extra man.
Sean Condon scored a superb individual try, converted Bruce, who also landed a penalty and then converted his own try following a trademark kick and chase.
Yet, the Students picked up a couple of yellows themselves during six minutes’ injury time and the opening phase of the second half.
O’Callaghan was dispatched to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on after Daniel Squires pulled off a magnificent try-saving tackle in midfield.
Within two minutes of the resumption, he had the company of Darragh French, instrumental in Bissessar’s try, and Banbridge profited with a try from scrum-half Neil Kilpatrick, converted by Humphreys, 24-20.
Four minutes later it was 13 versus 14 following the second yellow to a visiting player, Marty Voster, but Banbridge scored next, a thrilling try from exciting full-back Adam Doherty, who was a huge threat in broken play.
Humphreys converted for 24-27 after 52 minutes, but the were more twists and turns to come, starting with Condon’s second try after Bruce’s tantalising cross-kick to the corner led to a four-man collision and Condon pouncing on the loose ball. Bruce added the extras, 31-27, on the hour and 15 against 15 once more.
College fell behind again after 70 minutes, Banbridge pressure yielding a try for hooker and captain Peter Cromie, converted by Humphreys as anxiety levels soared with each passing minute.
Critically, UCC bagged the only scrum penalty of the afternoon after Banbridge had replaced tight-half prop Michael Cromie and Rory Duggan seized his opportunity. Bruce, then, guided his side over the line.