For the first time since 2012, when it was Kilkenny also missed out, one of the long-established big three of camogie will not be in the Glen Dimplex All-Ireland semi-finals after Cork saw off their conquerors in last year’s final.
The Rebels looked to be heading for a relatively comfortable conclusion but that was to reckon without the marvel that is Denise Gaule, whose stunning 58th-minute goal and subsequent point from a free she had won herself brought her tally to 1-10 and left Matthew Twomey and his crew chewing their nails.
Some big defensive plays saw them over the line in the end, however, and it was a victory they just about deserved.
The game was postponed for 15 minutes after the Cork squad had been forced to abandon their train and transfer to a bus, receiving a Garda escort from Naas to Croke Park.
Kilkenny started strongly with their policy of playing long and direct paying particular dividends.
The tactic served to bypass the hugely influential Laura Treacy but it also yielded a goal as Brian Dowling’s side established a five-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
But Cork hung in there despite struggling to get a toehold in proceedings and in particular, to provide a supply to Katrina Mackey and Amy O’Connor, and as Saoirse McCarthy, Fiona Keating and Hannah Looney began to get their running game going, it was the Rebels on top at the break by two, 1-8 to 1-6.
Kilkenny shot the opening two points of the game through a Gaule free and a score by Aoife Doyle, who was very prominent early on.
Sorcha McCartan snaffled a nice point to get Cork off the mark in the sixth minute and grabbed her second in response to another Gaule free but Julianne Malone split the posts before last year’s All-Ireland-winning captain Aoife Prendergast latched onto a long free from Claire Phelan and slipped a shot past the advancing Amy Lee in unfussy fashion.
Chloe Sigerson and O’Connor reduced the margin to a goal and the skipper then leveled proceedings with a fantastic turn and finish, after a brilliantly placed 60m delivery in front of her by Fiona Keating.
Looney pointed and Mackey drilled over two points but Kilkenny hit some bad wides and it was a two-point game at the change of ends.
Cork went for the jugular early in the second half and Mackey goaled just over four minutes after the resumption. McCarthy made a lot of ground on a trademark run and though Aoife Norris blocked her shot, the midfielder gathered the rebound. John Dermody waved play on when the Courcey Rovers speedster was bundled to the ground by a front charge but she quickly offloaded to Mackey, who made no mistake.
Mackey should have had a second goal after Cork ripped the Kilkenny defence apart once more but Norris was off her line brilliantly to make the block.
Kilkenny capitalised, hitting four points on the trot to get within one, Gaule’s ripper from 65m after a tremendous fetch the individual score of the day.
But Cliona Healy had a big impact off the bench and Twomey was also able to bring in Orla Cronin, Laura Hayes, and Ashling Thompson, the latter making her first appearance for the Leesiders since last year’s All-Ireland final having been sidelined by a cruciate ligament injury.
When O’Connor pointed a free after being fouled, the margin was five but for the umpteenth time in a star-studded career, player of the match Gaule imposed her will on proceedings.
Katie Power did a bit of the donkey work but it was the dual player of the year that was responsible for most of it, having loads to do but evading four would-be tacklers before batting to the net.
The Wizard of Windgap converted a free and you could cut the tension with a knife, while the burgeoning Kilkenny support got behind the Black and Ambers.
Grace Walsh brilliantly cleared off the line at the other end of the field, though O’Connor should surely have had a penalty after a tug by Norris and then Kilkenny might have had a free for a foul on Power.
But in the end, time ran out on the champions, who went out on their shield, but ultimately fell short.
SCORERS FOR CORK: A O’Connor 1-6(0-5fs, 0-1 45); K Mackey 1-2; S McCartan, C Healy 0-2 each; C Sigerson (f), H Looney 0-1 each
SCORERS FOR KILKENNY: D Gaule 1-10 (0-8fs); A Prendergast 1-0; A Doyle 0-2; J Malone 0-1
CORK: A Lee, P Mackey, L Coppinger, M Murphy, M Cahalane, L Treacy, I O’Regan, S McCarthy, H Looney, C Sigerson, F Keating, A Healy, A O’Connor, K Mackey, S McCartan. Subs: C Healy for Sigerson (36), O Cronin for McCartan (42), A Thompson for Looney (44), L Hayes for O’Regan (58)
KILKENNY: A Norris, C Phelan, G Walsh, S Fitzgerald, T Fitzgerald, N Deely, L Murphy, K Power, K Doyle, M Kenneally, A Doyle, T Fitzgerald, K Nolan, D Gaule, A Prendergast. Subs: M Teehan for Murphy inj (30+2), S O’Dwyer for Nolan (47), A McHardy for Prendergast (51), J Clifford for Kenneally (60+2)
REFEREE: John Dermody (Westmeath)