LATE goals from Sarah Houlihan and Anna Galvin sent Kerry through to a TG4 Munster ladies senior football final against Waterford on July 9.
Cork’s long unbeaten run of contesting provincial deciders, from 2004-2016 inclusive, was ended on Saturday evening as the Kingdom ran out two-point winners at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney.
Cork, Munster champions last year and current Lidl League and All-Ireland holders, were rocked by two goals in as many minutes, as Houlihan struck in the 57th minute before Galvin raced through for another.
Cork, inspired by the sharp-shooting of All-Star Orla Finn, had come from six points down early in the second half to lead by three with time running out.
But after Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh cut the gap back to two points with a free, those strikes from Houlihan and Galvin turned the game on its head again.
There was still time for Cork to register points from Annie Walsh and Eimear Scally but the clock ran out on the Leesiders, and they must now head for the qualifiers.
That’s uncharted territory for Cork, who fielded just seven of the team that lined out from the start against Dublin in last year’s All-Ireland final.
It’s been very much a transitional campaign for manager Ephie Fitzgerald and his players, and they’ll have to work hard to retain the All-Ireland title from here.
In 2003, Kerry beat Waterford by two points when the counties last met in a senior provincial decider, before Cork won nine-in-a-row, and contested 13 successive finals.
In this round 3 fixture, Kerry were ahead by double scores at half-time, 0-10 to 0-5, and the hosts also registered eight wides in the opening half.
Both teams came into the game having suffered defeat to Waterford and while a draw would have sufficed for Kerry on scoring averages, Cork knew they had to win to make the final.
Playing with the breeze, all of Kerry’s points came from play in that first half, with Cork managing just two.
Finn’s three frees kept the Rebelettes in touch but Kerry had much the better of it, forcing key turnovers inside their own half and creating clear-cut goal-scoring opportunities.
Galvin raced through in the 24th minute and blazed over, with Ní Mhuircheartaigh well placed on her left.
Four minutes later, Ní Mhuircheartaigh, who was causing Bríd Stack all sorts of problems, raced inside and shot over from an inviting position.
A minute later, with Kerry well on top, Lorraine Scanlon shot straight at Martina O’Brien after Ní Mhuircheartaigh had picked her out with a brilliant pass.
But Kerry still did enough to keep the scoreboard ticking over, moving two points clear early on before Cork pegged them back.
The Kingdom responded by racing into a 0-5 to 0-2 lead, Laura Rogers and Ní Mhuircheartaigh looking particularly sharp as Graham Shine’s charges took control.
Twice, Cork narrowed the gap to two points again but Kerry put over three unanswered points - Galvin, Houlihan and Ní Mhuircheartaigh on target – to establish a 0-9 to 0-4 advantage.
Annie Walsh and Scanlon traded scores approaching half-time and when Ní Mhuircheartaigh popped over a free to kick-start the second half scoring, Kerry were 0-11 to 0-5 clear.
But Cork rallied from there and launched a fine revival that sent them into a 2-11 to 0-14 advantage.
Aine O’Sullivan netted in the 34th minute and when Niamh Cotter scored Cork’s second goal ten minutes later, they were level at 2-8 to 0-14.
Galvin forced a brilliant save from Martina O’Brien before Finn’s 47th minute point had Cork ahead for the first time in the game.
Further scores from Finn and Scally had Fitzgerald’s charges three points clear, before Kerry came with a stunning late surge to claim a famous win.
Scorers for Kerry – S Houlihan 1-3, L Ní Mhuircheartaigh 0-5 (3f), A Galvin 1-1, L Rogers 0-4, L Scanlon 0-2.
Scorers for Cork – O Finn 0-8 (4f), N Cotter & A O’Sullivan 1-0 each, E Scally 0-3, A Walsh 0-2.
Kerry – L Fitzgerald; E Lynch, A Desmond, A Leonard; C Murphy, E Sherwood, S Leahy; L Scanlon, D Hallissey; A Brosnan, A Galvin, C Kelly; S Houlihan, L Ní Mhuircheartaigh, L Rogers.
Sub – E O’Leary for Brosnan (52m).
Cork – M O’Brien; M Ambrose, B Stack, M Duggan; E Meaney, R Phelan, S Kelly; N Cotter, J O’Shea; M O’Callaghan, B O’Sullivan, A Walsh; E Scally, A O’Sullivan, O Finn.
Subs – L Coppinger for O’Callaghan (h.t.), A Hutchings for Kelly (h.t.), O Farmer for A O’Sullivan (57).
Referee – J Mullins (Limerick).