Kerry won their first three-in-a-row of Munster junior football titles since 1969 with a hard-earned one-point win.
Cork managed three successive wins immediately following that Kerry treble at the end of the 60s, and the Rebels put five titles together from 1986 to 1990, but this Kerry win on a calm evening in Austin Stack Park was as significant as any of those sequences of wins, not least because it keeps Kerry on course to win back-to-back All-Ireland titles for the first time.
Cork, who came into this final on the back of a more convincing semi-final win than Kerry, will be acutely disappointed with this result; both for themselves as a team and because it compounds an increasingly poor year for their inter-county teams, football and hurling.
They led just once in the match, that when Mark Sugrue pointed in the second minute, but they fought back valiantly in the second half after they slipped into a five-point deficit moments after the restart.
In Millstreet's Mark Vaughan they had, arguably, the best forward on the field, and his six points from play went a long way to almost wrestling the title off Kerry. Eoghan Buckley, too, introduced after just seven minutes for David Harrington, mined three fine points from play, but they didn't, ultimately, get enough return from the rest of their attack.
Kerry captain Paul O'Donoghue had a strange game. He finished as top scorer with seven points, including five smoothly converted frees and a '45', but the St Marys man was also guilty of turning over a bit of possession and never quite brought the incision to the 'forty' as he is capable of. Around him, Niall O'Shea was as industrious as ever at corner forward, Sean Micí Ó Conchúir added some flair and two points from the other corner, and David Foran slowly worked himself into contest at wing forward, although his and Brian Ó Seanachain's contributions weren't quite up to the level required.
After Sugrue's opener for Cork, Patrick Clifford, Spillane and O'Donoghue scored for Kerry to edge them into a lead they'd never relinquish. The nearest Cork came to raising a green flag came in the sixth minute when Killian O'Hanlon broke through but he blazed a low shot side of the Kerry goal that never troubled Darragh O'Shea.
Vaughan scored a couple of decent points for Cork but Niall O'Shea, Kieran Hurley and O'Donoghue (two frees) kept Kerry 0-7 to 0-5 ahead after 20 minutes. Two more O'Donoghue frees doubled Kerry's lead to four, a lead they held at half time, 0-10 to 0-6, after Vaughan and Spillane traded late frees.
O'Donoghue's fifth free a minute after the restart made it a five-point game but that score ignited something in Cork as much as it set up the champions for the second period. Vaughan and Ó Conchúir swapped scores but there was a growing confidence about Cork, with Chris Moynihan giving them a platform in midfield and Buckley and Paul Condon giving them a better outlet in attack.
A Vaughan brace cut it to two points, Ó Conchúir grabbed one back before he drew a smart save from Anthony Casey with a decent shot on goal. Killian O'Hanlon fisted a Cork score in the 50th minute, O'Donoghue converted a '45' five minutes later, and Buckley's three point made it 0-14 to 0-12 in the 57th minute.
The momentum was ever so slightly with Cork at this stage but Kerry held the lead and looked dangerous on the counter-attack. Mark Sugrue landed a free kick in the 60th minute but the visitors couldn't fashion an equalising point or a winning goal as Kerry held on to retain their title and move on to an All-Ireland semi-final on July 23 somewhere in England.
Kerry: Darragh O'Shea; Darren Brosnan, Jason Foley, Cathal Ó Lúing; Patrick Clifford (0-1), Andrew Barry, Laurence Bastible; Adrian Spillane (0-2), Michael O'Donnell ; Brian Ó Seanacháin, Paul O'Donoghue (0-7, 5f, 1 '45'), David Foran; Sean M Ó Conchúir (0-2), Kieran Hurley (0-1), Niall O'Shea (0-1). Subs: Fionán Clifford for D Brosnan (40), Conor O'Shea for P Clifford (46), Kevin O'Sullivan for M O'Donnell (48), Robert Wharton for D Foran (52), Stephen O'Sullivan for K Hurley (54), Adam Barry for S O'Sullivan (inj, 61)
CORK: Anthony Casey: Diarmuid Colfer, Peter Murphy, John Mullins; David O'Neill, Bart Daly, Kieran Histon; John Corkery, Cillian Brosnan; Michael Vaughan (0-6), Killian O'Hanlon (0-1), Ryan Harkin; Mark Sugrue (0-3, 2f), Gerry O'Connor, David Harrington. Subs: Eoghan Buckley (0-3) for D Harrington (7), Chris Moynihan for J Corkery (25), T J Brosnan for D O'Neill (h/t), Paul Condon for G O Connor (47), Sean O'Leary for C Brosnan (52), Niall McCarthy for P Murphy (57).
Referee: David Grogan (Tipperary)