Ace forward Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh hailed Kerry's "character" after the Kingdom rallied to knock Cork out of the TG4 Munster Ladies Senior Football Championship on Saturday evening.
In sweltering conditions, Sarah Houlihan and Anna Galvin scored late goals to seal a 2-15 to 2-13 win - and send Kerry through to a final clash with Waterford on July 8.
Niamh Cotter and Aine O'Sullivan got Cork's goals.
Cork's defeat means that their unbroken run of appearing in provincial deciders (2004-2016) is over - and Ephie Fitzgerald's charges will attempt to retain their All-Ireland crown through the back door. In a see-saw battle, Cork came from six points down early in the second to lead by three, before Houlihan and Galvin scored the decisive goals in the 57th and 58th minutes.
"It was an absolutely fantastic game," Ní Mhuircheartaigh said.
"We went in five points up, but we knew Cork are an outstanding team, you'd look up to them, and we knew they'd come back at us.
"When they went ahead, this is experience now with us, our heads didn't drop. Normally our heads would drop, but it's a sign of the heart in the team and hopefully now we can build from this and move on.
"We knew they would come back because they're such a brilliant team, but it's the character of our team, we stuck with it and we didn't let the heads down.
"It was a fantastic game from the first minute to the 60th."
Cork and Kerry had both suffered defeats to Waterford in the round-robin series of games - leaving Saturday's tie as a winner-takes-all clash in the hunt for a final spot.
And Ní Mhuircheartaigh agreed that Kerry, who scored all of their points from play in the first half on their way to a 0-10 to 0-5 interval lead, have improved significantly.
She said: "We have (improved). We were very disappointed with that (Waterford) performance. They were the much better team on that day, but we were very disappointed with our own mistakes.
"We needed to prove a point today and thank God we did.
"Another crack at them (Waterford) in a couple of weeks - they beat Cork as well and they're a fantastic team and have been coming for the past few years.
"We'll have to knuckle down, fix up the mistakes we made today and try and improve on them before three weeks' time."
In Ulster, meanwhile, Caoimhe Mohan hit 1-6 from play to inspire reigning champions Monaghan to a 1-19 to 2-10 victory over neighbours Cavan in an entertaining semi-final. It was a repeat of last year's final and it looked like the Breffni girls might overturn that result as they led 2-2 to 0-2 after 12 minutes, Aisling Doonan and Caitriona Smith netting their goals.
However, by the break Monaghan had that deficit wiped out, as they went in level, 0-9 to 2-3, as both sides had a player each sin binned in that opening period.
On the resumption, Monaghan dominated with some breathtaking football, Mohan outstanding as she kicked points off both feet.
Substitute Eileen McKenna edged Monaghan in front for the first time in the game and when Mohan struck for her goal six minutes into the second half, Monaghan moved six points clear.
Cavan did stay in touch and had it back to a three-point game, but Monaghan, with Mohan and Ciara McAnespie in stunning form, had too much firepower, as all but two points of their final tally came from play.
Monaghan will meet beaten Division 1 finalists Donegal in the final, as Cavan head for the qualifiers.
In the Ulster intermediate championship, Derry came through an epic encounter to seal a final clash with Fermanagh on July 2.
The Oak Leafers ran out 5-15 to 5-9 semi-final winners against Antrim after extra-time.
There was another excellent game in the Connacht intermediate championship, as Roscommon edged out Sligo by just a single point, on a 3-16 to 1-21 scoreline.