Cork 1-16 Kilkenny 0-13
THE Cork U20s are through to an All-Ireland final after a second-half display of ferocious aggression and clever teamwork as much as skill saw off Leinster champions Kilkenny.
Denis Ring's side were beaten at the death of the provincial decider against Tipp but, despite going behind after half-time were worthy winners here and comfortably held the Cats at bay in the closing stages. Cork hurling has been labelled as soft lately but they were nothing of the sort this time.
Tommy O'Connell was a deserved Man of the Match after nailing 1-10 but this was a collective effort. Defensively the Rebels were fantastic. Ger Millerick held Adrian Mullen scoreless from play, while Conor O'Callaghan, James Keating and Seán O'Leary Hayes were heroic, driving out time and again with the sliotar.
Robert Downey struggled badly against Tipp but had his best game of the season here, as did Eoin Roche in the number four geansaí. After from O'Connell, no one shot the lights out, Brian Turnbull and Shane O'Regan only scoring a point from play between them but that didn't matter.
The Cork U21s ripped Wexford asunder at this juncture in 2018 and it didn't count for much when they were beaten by Tipp in the All-Ireland. The Premier face Wexford in the other semi this Sunday and it's likely we'll get another all-Munster All-Ireland.
If Cork head into that joust at the end of the month with the same appetite for work they showed in Portlaoise, they'll have every chance of lifting a first All-Ireland in the grade since 1998.
An ideal start had Cork four points ahead, with Kilkenny extremely flat and unable to capitalise on the strong breeze. Mullen was man-marked by Millerick from off and given his excellence at senior level, was curbed. The full-back line of O'Callaghan, Keating and Roche hoovered up all the breaks but this being a Kilkenny team, they got a foothold despite O'Connell soloing through for a sizzling individual goal.
Turnbull and O'Regan were dangerous inside but Turnbull wasn't getting enough possession while O'Regan was guilty of four wides, though only a flying save denied him a goal.
Either side of the break the Cats' greater physicality became a factor. Cork were one up at half-time and one down within three minutes of the restart.
Yet Cork never wavered, roared on by a massive Leeside crowd. O'Connell continued to hurl up a storm, while Brian Roche's work-rate and hard running caused huge problems at 11. Ryan Walsh became more prominent at midfield.
Defensively Cork were immense, none more so than Conor O'Callaghan. He harried Eoin Cody into a wide, took the short puck-out and fed Walsh for a point. Robert Downey began to use his heft and senior experience to snap up breaks across the half-back line.
While O'Regan and Turnbull weren't getting any change in terms of scores, they tore after Jordan Molloy and forced him to overcarry for an O'Connell free. With five minutes remaining it was 1-15 to 0-13, all achieved through attitude. Evan Sheehan buried Niall Brassil for a sideline.
Like Sheehan, O'Regan and O'Connell are flair players but never stopped tracking Kilkenny backs when they broke down the flanks. That was ultimately the difference-maker given Cork didn't hurl with the same fluency they had, even in defeat, against Tipp but they got the job done, which was all that matterd.