The reigning All-Ireland champions went into this provincial decider as underdogs, having lost last month to Kerry, who were bidding to win their first back-to-back Munster title in 26 years.
A solid Cork defence, however, denied their neighbours the chance of repeating history.
“Kerry beat us twice already this year, so you can’t leave a side beat you three times in a row,” said All-Star defender Deirdre O’Reilly at the Killarney Legion GAA grounds.
“We had a quick chat amongst ourselves after we lost the last day to them and we knew we had to dig deep. Our intensity was different tonight.”
Playing against the wind in the opening half, Cork’s defence held Alan O’Neill’s side to just four points, despite good play from Bernie Breen, Lorraine Scanlon, and captain Aislinn Desmond. Having scored seven points against the Rebels in the second round of the championship, Louise Ní Mhuirceartaigh managed just a single point this time, as Brid Stack marshalled her throughout. O’Reilly, Vera Foley, and Roisin Phelan also put in good defensive shifts during an opening half which saw the sides level twice.
However, top scorer Orla Finn capitalised on a Kerry error in the 26th minute, making no mistake when putting the ball past Edel Murphy to give Cork a four-point lead at half-time: 1-5 to 0-4.
The second half would be a write-off for Kerry, who failed to score for a 30-minute duration, adding just three second-half points, while Cork picked off their points courtesy of player-of-the-match Finn and the industrious Orlagh Farmer.
The turning point arrived on the 43rd minute, when Cork captain Ciara O’Sullivan was fouled inside the square, and dual star Rena Buckley — who had 24 hours earlier lined out in a senior camogie championship qualifier for Cork — stepped up to slot home what was her first penalty in a Cork senior jersey.
Kerry would replace four of their starting forwards to try kick-start the scoring process, but the damage had already been done, as the Cork defence continued to deny any advances.
The victory is Cork’s first in a Munster final since losing their crown to Kerry last summer in a 13-point hammering, but last night’s win equates to their 11th provincial title since 2004.
It is Cork coach Ephie Fitzgerald’s second piece of silverware since coming on board in late January, and their focus will now turn to the All-Ireland series next month following a training weekend in Rosscarbery next week.
Kerry will now progress through the backdoor via the qualifiers and, depending on how results pan out, they could meet Cork in the latter stages of the championship.
O FInn 1-6 (0-6 frees), R Buckley 1-0 (pen), O Farmer and B Corkery 0-1 each.
L Scanlon and S Houlihan 0-2, L Ni Mhuirceartaigh 0-1 (free), B Breen and E Sherwood 0-1 each.
M O’Brien; R Phelan, B Stack, M Ambrose; V Foley, D O’Reilly, R Phelan; R Buckley, B Corkery; O Farmer, H Looney, A Walsh; C O’Sullivan, D O’Sullivan, O Finn. Subs: L Coppinger for H Looney (27), A Hutchings for O Farmer (50, J O’Shea for D O’Sullivan (53), A T O’Sullivan for R Buckley and A Hayes for S Kelly (56)
E Murphy; A O’Connell, A Desmond, A Leonard; C Murphy, C Kelly, E Lynch; B Breen, L Scanlon; C Buckley, A Brosnan, J Lynch; S Houlihan, L Ni Mhuirceartaigh, L Rogers. Subs: E Sherwood for A Brosnan and A Galvin for C Buckley (HT), M O’Connell for L Ni Mhuirceartaigh (46), K O’Sullivan for A Leonard (48) and A Murphy for J Lynch (52).
K Delahunty (Tipperary)
Orla Finn (Cork)