Both sides served up a marvellous contest that looked to be going Cork's way early on, as they hit the defending champions with two goals which helped them into a seven point lead after 20 minutes.
But after being reduced to 14 players just before half time and falling a point behind, it looked as if Kerry's numerical advantage would prove decisive.
However, a fabulous third goal by Colm O'Neill three minutes from time, his second of the game, gave the initiative back to Cork and they held on for a great victory.
Cork had many heroes but none shone brighter than full-back Eoin Cotter, Colm O'Driscoll at right half-forward and Colm O'Neill inside him. For Kerry it was no fault of captain Mike O'Donoghue, Kieran O'Leary and Gavin Duffy that they lost.
Cork couldn't have asked for a better start when Fiachra Lynch kicked a great long-range point after just 12 seconds; and it got better for the home side 60 seconds later when Colm O'Neill took advantage of poor Kerry defending to rifle home a great goal from 12 metres out.
Cork streaked into a 1-3 to 0-1 lead after just five minutes and the defending champions looked to be in for a drubbing, but then Kerry settled.
Kieran Brennan and Alan O'Sullivan got on top in midfield, which put a lot of pressure on the Cork defence, and with team captain Mike O'Donoghue leading by example, Kerry kicked over three points in a row and were back in the game.
However, the Kerry defence was punished when David Kearney dispossessed corner-back Colin O'Mahony, took the return pass and slipped home a second Cork goal, which helped his side into a seven point lead after 25 minutes.
Undeterred, Kerry hit back strongly and after Mike O'Donoghue kicked over two points in a row, Cork were reduced to 14 players when corner-back Jason O'Callaghan was sent off for a second yellow card offence.
Paul O'Connor pointed the resulting free and Kerry had the deficit down to four points at the half time break, 2-4 to 0-6.
Cork withdrew a forward and brought on Pat Carroll, but 15-man Kerry wasted little time in putting their numerical advantage to use.
With Kieran O'Leary sparkling at centre forward, Kerry were level after 35 minutes after Jack Falvey had a point and Paul O'Connor scored a marvellous goal. Cork were struggling and found themselves a point down after Kieran O'Leary gave Kerry the lead for the first time in the match.
It might have been more Paddy Curran drove a piledriver off the crossbar as the home side struggled to cope with the ever-increasing pressure.
The hugely impressive Colm O'Driscoll eased the pressure on Cork with an equalising point but Paddy Curran was desperately unlucky not to score a goal at the other end when his effort came back off the upright.
As the tension mounted Cork won a free in midfield which Fiachra Lynch took, and his huge effort found Colm O'Neill drifting inside the Kerry defence. The Ballyclough youngster made no mistake from close range to give the initiative back to Cork.
The closing minutes were heart-stopping for Cork as Kerry threw everything at them, but the Cork defence, superbly marshalled by full-back Eoin Cotter and Colin O'Brien, held out for a thrilling victory.
Scorers for Cork: C. O'Neill 2-3 (0-2 frees); D. Kearney 1-0; F. Lynch, C. O'Driscoll 0-2 each; E. Hegarty 0-1.
Scorers for Kerry: P. O'Connor 1-2 (0-1 free); M. O'Donoghue 0-4; K. O'Leary 0-3; P. Curran, J. Falvey 0-1 each.
CORK: T. O'Connor; J. O'Callaghan, E. Cotter, C. O'Brien; S. Kiely, M. O'Brien, A. Fenton; F. Lynch, A. Barry; C. O'Driscoll, D. Crowley, R. Kenny; C. O'Neill, D. Scannell, D. Kearney.
Subs. P. Carroll for Kenny; B. Daly for Crowley; E. Hegarty for Scannell; R. O'Dwyer for Kiely.
KERRY: G. Kissane; C. O'Mahony, M. Moloney, K. Young; J. Wrenn, G. Duffy, S. Enright; K. Brennan, A. O'Sullivan; J. Falvey, K. O'Leary, B. Looney; P. Curran, P. O'Connor, M. O'Donoghue.
Subs. S. Lynch for Enright; T. Walsh for Looney; D. Murphy for Falvey; E. MacGearailt for A. O'Sullivan.
Referee: R. Hickey (Clare).