The spoils were eventually divided at the end of a surprisingly interesting 1-1 draw at the UCD Bowl.
A top-five finish was a possibility for Shelbourne, who ruled vast chunks of this clash, but UCD were rugged and resourceful throughout.
Shels make a blistering start as Kevin Dawson created a third-minute opener for the dynamic David Cassidy. But the Students were back on level terms in the 21st minute when Hugh Douglas headed home Chris Mulhall's corner.
With Glenn Cronin and Dawson industrious in the centre of the park, Shelbourne quickly signalled their intentions at the UCD Bowl.
The match had only ticked into its third minute when Dawson scampered clear down the right, before cutting the ball back for Cassidy.
With UCD custodian Ger Barron advancing, Cassidy reacted sharply, avoiding a couple of challenges to roll Shels ahead.
Alan Mathews' side came close to adding a second in the sixth minute, but Philly Hughes' attempted lob was gathered by Barron.
Surprisingly, there was little of the neat football that UCD have demonstrated, especially in recent months, but the Students grabbed a 21st minute leveller.
Mulhall's corner caused panic in the Shels defence and Douglas punished the hesitancy with a firm equalising header.
Then a curious incident on the half-hour mark incensed the visiting supporters when left-back Lorcan Fitzgerald was yellow carded while being stretchered off following a collision with Douglas.
That added some bite to the contest, with Conan Byrne immediately forcing a save from Barron, while Gary Burke examined Chris Bennion's reflexes at the other end.
In first-half injury-time a low Hughes effort was turned around the post by Barron as the teams departed deadlocked.
Two minutes after the restart, Conan Byrne drilled a shot wide as Shels sought to land a blow as the Students weren't passing the ball with their usual fluency.
A Stephen Hurley pass was gathered by Byrne in the 59th minute and the winger rifled narrowly wide as Shels continued to probe.
Cassidy and Byrne squandered other gilt-edged openings for Shels who continued to be denied by Barron's bravery.
With a minute of normal time remaining, Douglas hacked away a Kavanagh strike as UCD's grit and determination was rewarded with a point.
UCD: Barron; Douglas, Leahy, Kavanagh (Langtry, 46), Nangle; Clarke, O'Conor, Burke (McCabe, 64), Mulhall; Benson; McMillan (Lyons, 75).
Shelbourne: Bennion; Hurley (Gorman, 90), Boyle, Paisley, Fitzgerald (Clancy, 31); Byrne, Cronin, Dawson, Kavanagh; Cassidy; Hughes.
Referee: N Doyle.