Billy Mangan’s Kerry had started the brighter, but superb goalkeeping by Cork’s Olivia Cahill and defending by full-back Marie Ambrose scuppered the Kingdom’s advances.
The sides were only level once, but when Kerry edged in front thanks to points by skipper Jane Lynch and substitute Eilish Kavanagh in the 16th minute, Cork hit back courtesy of a Connolly goal — 1-2 to 0-4. Julie Dennehy also netted to send Cork in 2-4 to 0-7 ahead at the break.
Upon the restart, Kerry were given a lifeline when, in the 33rd minute, referee Eamon Phelan sent Cork’s Eirne Ní Dheasmhunaigh to the sin bin.
But it was the home side who outscored Kerry 2-1 in that time-frame, with Connolly adding her second goal in the 36th minute and substitute Saoirse Moore another just 60 seconds later.
Despite the efforts of Kerry’s Megan O’Connor, Savannah McCarthy and Niamh Carmondy, Connolly added her third goal of the day at the death, and captain and player of the match Marie Ambrose of St Val’s collected the cup.
On Saturday, the Rebels are in minor All-Ireland semi-final action when they take on Dublin in Nenagh at 4pm, with Mayo and Tyrone in action in Ballinarobe at 3pm.
Scorers for Cork: M Connolly 3-0, J Dennehy 1-3 (0-3f), S Moore 1-0, E Scally, E Ní Dheasmhunaigh and H Looney 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kerry: N Carmondy 0-3 (3f), S McCarthy, J Lynch and E Kavanagh 0-2 each, K Dennehy 0-1.
CORK: O Cahill; E Carey, M Ambrose (capt), E Meaney; C O’Rourke, A Madden, J Tonks; E Ní Dheasmhunaigh, C Hickey; M Corkery, H Looney, A Dowling; M Connolly, J Dennehy, E Scally.
Subs: C Murphy for A Madden and S Moore for C Hickey (h-t).
KERRY: M Holland; A Sheehan, N McKenna, O Randles; T Mangan, A Shine, J Lynch (capt); M O’Connor, C Hayes; S Hanifan, N Carmondy, K Dennehy; S McCarthy, E Finucane, D Dunlea.
Subs: E Kavanagh for E Finucane (16), D Burns for S Hanifin (54), J Carmondy for O Randles (59), R Horgan for C Hayes (59; inj).
Referee: E Phelan (Limerick).