Kilkenny 0-20 Cork 2-12
After all their early league disappointments, Kilkenny still managed to finish joint top of Division 1A by clinching their third win on the trot against Cork at Nowlan Park.
Four points from both Colin Fennelly and Richie Hogan send Brian Cody's men into the league semi-finals, and but for the 12 wides they shot, their slot in the last four would have been wrapped up a lot quicker.
In the end the Cats needed every one of their point to take the win over Jimmy Barry-Murphy's side as Conor Lehane's injury-time goal brought the Rebels back to within a point of the winners.
But a super late point from Michael Fennelly settled Kilkenny and sees them set up a repeat of last year's All-Ireland final with Galway in the semi-finals.
For long stages it seemed as if Kilkenny would be over run by Cork as the Munster men started like a house on fire and opened up a 0-4 to 0-1 lead by the 14th minute.
The Cats were in particular having trouble dealing with Lehane's lightening pace, but points from his fellow attackers Paudie O'Sullivan and Stephen Moylan also gave Kilkenny plenty to think about.
Two dead ball strikes from Eoin Larkin – a free and a 65 – brought Kilkenny back into the tie, but three quick points for Cork from Lehane, Moylan and Daniel Kearney gave Jimmy Barry-Murphy's side a 0-7 to 0-3 lead by the 26th minute.
However Kilkenny finished the first-half with a flurry of scores as two Larkin frees were added to by a terrific point from Lester Ryan and Colin Fennelly to level the game at 0-7 each at the break.
Immediately from the restart Richie Hogan got in on the act with a crisp point from play, but Cork hit back with their first point in 12 minutes when Pa Cronin found Paudie O'Sullivan in space.
After another Larkin free, Lehane punished some loose marking by the Kilkenny defence, before Pat Horgan hit another free to give Cork a one-point lead.
The see-saw nature of the play continued and after Richie Hogan and Larkin hit points, a blistering minute from Luke O'Farrell looked to have edged the tie in Cork's favour.
Firstly in the 46th minute the full-forward struck a wonderful low shot past Eoin Murphy after some great work from Moylan and seconds later he showed JJ Delaney a clean pair of heels to score an equally fine point on the turn.
That point opened out a three-point lead for Cork, but Kilkenny needn’t have worried as they proceeded to finish the second half as they did the first.
Five points in a row – including one from a penalty from Richie Power – saw Cody's side hold a two-point lead, and after Horgan halted their change with a free they hit another three unanswered points to take total control.
Lehane crowned a super individual display with his shot to the top corner in the 71st minute, but it was too late for the Rebels to salvage a spot in the last four.