Kerry turned in a much-improved performance as they beat Down 0-11 to 1-05 in Tralee to register their first Allianz NFL Division One win.
Johnny Buckley’s five first-half points provided the platform for the Kingdom. Connaire Harrison scored the visitors’ only point as Kerry led 0-08 to 0-01 at the break with the influential Declan O’Sullivan hitting a brace.
Donal O’Hare poached an opportunist second-half goal, but Kerry managed to see out a deserved victory despite Darran O’Sullivan’s penalty miss.
Pointless after four Division 1 matches, Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s men were in desperate need of a result against a Down side that opened their win account against Mayo last weekend.
After early wides at both ends, the returning Declan O’Sullivan was out smartly to win a ball and Buckley slotted the 40-yard free.
The same two players combined for Buckley’s only point from play, with Buckley and his Dr Crokes club-mate Eoin Brosnan swapping positions.
Buckley struck an eighth minute free before experienced defender Aidan O’Mahony was forced off with a suspected ankle injury.
Mark Griffin came on in his place, joining fellow league debutant Fionn Fitzgerald in the home defence.
While Kerry were thriving from the direct play of Buckley and O’Sullivans along with a stellar defensive display from Marc Ó Sé, Down were rather toothless in defence and attack.
Buckley landed another pointed free, following a strong run from Ó Sé, and Declan O’Sullivan added his name to the scoresheet with Buckley and Kieran Donaghy involved in the build-up.
Donal O’Hare, the scoring star for the Mourne men against Mayo, fluffed his lines from a kickable free and he missed a further two efforts that he would have usually converted.
Down’s only point of the opening 35 minutes came when Mark Poland ran hard at the Kerry defence, a goal chance was briefly on before he passed for Harrison to split the posts.
Jonathan Lyne and Darran O’Sullivan set up Declan O’Sullivan for a 20th-minute score, and Brian Maguire then cut in from the wing to fist over with his right hand.
With O’Hare and Benny Coulter adding to Down’s wides tally, Buckley registered his fourth pointed free at the start of a four-minute period of injury-time.
Down tightened up for the start of the second half, defending deep in numbers and squeezing the space on what had been a fluid Kerry attack.
The complexion of the game changed when a Poland point attempt came back off the woodwork and O’Hare finished the loose ball to the net.
O’Hare followed up with pointed free to reduce the arrears to 0-08 to 1-02, as James McCartan’s charges suddenly played their way back into contention.
Paul Galvin, coming on for captain Brosnan, made an immediate impact as he created an opening for Declan O’Sullivan’s third point.
O’Hare and Jonathan Lyne traded points as Kerry kept their noses in front.
They had a serious chance to put the game to bed in the 59th minute, but Darran O’Sullivan, having just been pulled down by Keith Quinn, sent the resulting penalty wide.
Paul McComiskey provided the assist for a Coulter point as the margin was cut to three again, however, Kerry did just enough to see out this much-needed win.
Impressive wing back Maguire left-footed Kerry’s 11th and final point with aplomb, with Down’s only response being an Arthur McConville free.
After a scrappy conclusion, Rory Hickey’s final whistle was greeted with relief more than anything.
Whether Kerry are back on track remains to be seen - next weekend’s visit of old rivals Cork should provide a more definite answer.
Scorers: Kerry: Johnny Buckley 0-05 (0-04f), Declan O’Sullivan 0-03, Brian Maguire 0-02, Jonathan Lyne 0-01
Down: Donal O’Hare 1-02 (0-01f), Connaire Harrison, Benny Coulter, Arthur McConville (0-01f) 0-01 each
KERRY: Brendan Kealy; Marc Ó Sé, Aidan O’Mahony, Shane Enright; Fionn Fitzgerald, Killian Young, Brian Maguire; Anthony Maher, Eoin Brosnan; Jonathan Lyne, Donnchadh Walsh, Johnny Buckley; Declan O’Sullivan, Kieran Donaghy, Darran O’Sullivan.
Subs used: Mark Griffin for O’Mahony (13 mins), Paul Galvin for Brosnan (46), Kieran O’Leary for Walsh (57), James O’Donoghue for Declan O’Sullivan (66).
DOWN: Brendan McVeigh; Daniel McCartan, Brendan McArdle, Ryan Boyle; Ryan Mallon, Aidan Carr, Keith Quinn; Kalum King, Kevin McKernan; Conor Laverty, Mark Poland, Paul McComiskey; Donal O’Hare, Connaire Harrison, Benny Coulter.
Subs used: Conor Gough for Carr (25 mins), Damien Turley for Mallon (32), Arthur McConville for Harrison (46).
Referee: Rory Hickey (Clare)