A thrilling clash sprinkled with purpose and passion concluded in a welter of excitement as UCC's Bill Beckett pinched a winning goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time at Clanna Gael Fontenoy in Ringsend, Dublin.
It was a tad harsh on a Waterford IT outfit that had gone six points clear in the third quarter courtesy of two opportunistic Timmy Hammersly goals, but ultimately UCC's perseverance was rewarded.
The Rebels had introduced several substitutes in search of a goal that was eventually supplied by the excellent Beckett with a last-gasp finish.
Waterford IT were then left to reflect on how a game they had bossed for vast chunks was let slip from their grasp.
The hurling had been thoughtful and crisp in the first half, with Waterford IT, prompted by the excellent Hammersly, settling impressively.
UCC were gritty, particularly the outstanding Shane O'Neill, who diligently patrolled dangerman Ray McLoughney.
Deadlocked at five points each in the 18th minute following a close start, Waterford then hit four on the spin. Hammersly, Stephen Lillis (free), TJ Reid and McLoughney (free) all squeezed shots over as Waterford began to move smoothly.
Despite all of Waterford's enterprise and skill, though, they only had accumulated a 0-10 to 0-7 interval advantage.
Within 10 minutes of the restart, that lead had been wiped out as UCC thundered into the contest. John Mulhall was dashing in attack, steering efforts over from a variety of angles, and the teams were deadlocked once again, at 0-11 each.
As the contest continued to veer frenetically, Waterford regained the initiative when Hammersly bagged a 42nd-minute goal. James Ryan's delivery was lofted with hope rather than expectation, but Hammersly was crafty enough to apply a deft flick beyond Anthony Nash.
Seconds later, Hammersly reminded the audience of his nifty wristwork when the sliotar bounced kindly following another Ryan clearance and the full-forward rattled the Rebels' net with a blistering drive.
UCC's resolve was now receiving a stern examination, but Paul O'Connor's charges started to summon the necessary answers.
O'Neill was superb in defence, while at wing-back Richie Foley underlined his value to the team with a similarly stylish display.
With eight minutes left on the clock UCC had the deficit paired back to 2-13 to 0-16 as Foley (two), Stephen Moylan and Shane Burke all nailed important points.
Six scoreless minutes added to the intrigue before the dramatic climax. Mulhall pointed and the enterprising Beckett flicked over another to leave the minimum between the teams.
Waterford ventured back upfield, with McLoughney sweeping over a routine free.
But Cork summoned one final attack and the sliotar was eventually bundled over the Waterford line in a densely populated goalmouth by Beckett.
UCC's recovery mission was complete, and the Fitzgibbon Cup aristocrats enter this evening's Parnell Park decider with UL heartened.
Scorers -- UCC: B Beckett 1-4, J Mulhall 0-5 (1 sl), R Foley (1f), S Moylan (2fs) 0-3 each, D Hanley 0-2, S Burke 0-1. WIT: T Hammersly 2-2, R McLoughney 0-5 (5fs), S Lillis 0-3 (2fs), TJ Reid 0-2, F O'Leary, R Good 0-1 each.
UCC -- A Nash; S O'Neill, D McSweeney, C O'Sullivan; J Jordan, K Hartnett, R Foley; M Wilkinson, M Cahill; S Burke, B Beckett, D Hanley; T Og Murphy, J Mulhall, S Moylan. Subs: B O'Sullivan for Wilkinson (45), E Murphy for T Og Murphy (50), D Browne for Cahill (56).
Waterford IT -- A Power; B Kenny, R McCarthy, C Cooney; M Dunne, E Barrett, J Ryan; S Lillis, PJ Rowe; R Good, F O'Leary, TJ Reid; K Grehan, T Hammersly, R McLoughney. Subs: S Fives for Barrett (41), S O'Donnell for Grehan (48), J Gahan for Rowe (52).
REF -- J Owens (Wexford).