IT was to be the bright new dawn for Meath football, but Cavan corner-back Josh Hayes spoiled the party with a last-gasp fisted goal that saw UCD progress to the next round of the O'Byrne Cup.
Meath looked to have done just enough when Shane McAnarney curled over an excellent 70th-minute point to give them a one-point lead.
But in a reverse of the infamous Leinster final of last year, Meath were on the receiving end of a sucker-punch goal after a goalmouth scramble. Hayes reacted quickest to punch home from close range after Ciaran Lyng's shot was parried by Brendan Murphy.
It was an exciting finish to a game that failed to fire in the opening period, as errors and misplaced passes stymied any momentum.
The students dominated much of the early possession, but were toothless up front. It was a similar story at the other end, where Dubliner Michael Fitzsimons was dousing flames when they threatened to take hold, thus leaving Meath's full-forward line of Graham Reilly, Brian Sheridan and Paddy Gilsenan to live off scraps.
UCD weren't helped by injury to captain Peter Kelly after just 30 seconds. The Kildare man was stretchered from the field with knee trouble, with Kieran McGeeney expected to discover the seriousness of the injury to his All Star defender later today.
As UCD were settling, Meath opened up a three-point lead, with Gilsenan showing some bright early touches.
Cormac McGuinness weighed in with a classy score from centre-back, but the students hit back with four points in five minutes to take the lead by the half-hour mark.
Westmeath's John Heslin was the game's outstanding player and he lorded centrefield in that period and it could have been even better for the students had Michael Brazil goaled rather than pointed with only Brendan Murphy to beat after he was put clear by Lyng.
Despite Meath levelling through Graham Reilly, the students went in at the break with a 0-5 to 0-4 lead through Heslin's third point.
Seamus McEnaney introduced Seamus Kenny at half-time and that roused Meath, who took control on the restart with three unanswered points as Cian Ward found his range from open play and placed balls.
But the students refused to give up, with Kevin McGourty and Heslin landing points to tie the game with just five minutes remaining.
Both sides spurned gilt-edged point chances in that period, but Hayes was rewarded for his raid up front when fisting to the net with the last action of the game.
UCD host this year's Sigerson, the 100th running of the competition, in Belfield in March and this result, particularly in the absence of players like Donie Kingston, Ross O'Carroll and Cian O'Sullivan, underlines their credentials for a first title since 1996.
Conversely it will hardly be the most significant result of the year for Meath, and McEnaney will have noted the performances of Davy Dalton at corner-back and Cormac McGuinness as they prepare for the visit of minnows Kilkenny in the O'Byrne Shield on Sunday.
SCORERS -- UCD: J Heslin 0-6 (0-4f), J Hayes 1-0, K McGourty, C Lyng, M Brazil 0-1 each. Meath: C Ward 0-3 (0-2f), G Reilly 0-2, P Gilsenan, N Mooney, S McAnarney, C McGuinness, D Dalton 0-1.
UCD -- M Savage; J Hayes, C Forde, M Fitzsimons; S Redmond, P Kelly, C Brady; K McGourty, J Heslin; J O'Loughlin, C Lyng, J Cocoman; C Kenny, D Larkin, M Brazil. Subs: T Warburton for P Kelly (1), L Smith for Cocoman (48), S Nerney for Redmond (51), L Cawley for Larkin (56), R Mallon for Brazil (65).
Meath -- B Murphy; C McGill, J Macken, D Dalton; D Morgan, C McGuinness, C Lenihan; M Ward, C Gillespie; S McAnarney, C Ward, N Mooney; G Reilly, B Sheridan, P Gilsenan. Subs: S Kenny for Mc Gill (h-t), D Keoghan for Sheridan (52), B Menton for Gillespie (65), B Meade for Mooney (68).
Ref -- P Kneel (Louth).