Gareth ‘Magic’ Johnson’s stoppage-time goal gave Down their first Christy Ring Cup title in a dramatic 3-16 to 2-17 win over Kerry at Croke Park.
Johnson had grabbed a Down major, but goals from Padraig Boyle and Shane Nolan helped the Kingdom to a 2-06 to 1-08 half-time lead.
Substitute Scott Nicholson netted a second Down goal, and they drew level through Johnny McCusker, before Johnson flicked home his second in the 71st minute.
A blistering start saw both sides hit the net inside the opening three minutes.
First Gareth ‘Magic’ Johnson drilled home a Down three-pointer, and the cheers had barely died down when Padraig Boyle flashed an angle shot to the net at the other end.
And Kerry took the lead in the 15th minute with a goal from Shane Nolan, who had moments earlier had a point awarded on a Hawk-Eye call.
Padraig Boyle’s delivery was flicked on by Aidan Boyle for Nolan to collect and smash past Stephen Keith
Nolan floated over his third point from play and converted two frees as the Kingdom eased into a five points lead, but only after a let-off which saw Johnson flash a first-time shot just wide.
Down were awarded a penalty in the 29th minute after a mazy run by Michael Ennis was illegally halted, but Braniff drilled over the bar.
With Conor Woods and Michael Ennis prompting from the back, the Ulster men continued to press in the closing stages of the half, cutting the deficit further with scores from Daniel Toner, James Coyle and Donal Hughes.
Kerry still held on to a narrow 2-6 to 1-8 lead at the interval, and they pushed on with scores from Brendan O’Leary and Nolan, with Willie O’Dwyer nailing his second of the afternoon.
Down kept in touch through Conor Woods, who hit he target from placed balls from long range, and in the 48th minute their challenge was given fresh impetus when substitute Scott Nicholson grabbed their second goal.
Rochford produced a superb save from another Braniff penalty, but Nicholson was first to the rebound, finishing to the net from close range.
Down passions were stirring, and they began to believe that they were capable of making a big statement in the remainder of a game that still had more than 20 minutes to run.
They began to get on top around midfield, with Donal Hughes, Ciaran Coulter and Woods displaying their leadership qualities, and although Kerry restored their three points advantage, the men from the north were determined to fight to the death.
Nicholson continued to make an impact with two more points, and it was another sub, Johnny McCusker, who brought the sides level with four minutes to play.
Padraig Boyle’s 70th minute point appeared likely to be the decisive score, however, but in one lasdt throw of the dice, Braniff gambled with a long punt in the direction of Johnson, who worked his magic with a deft flick that deflected the ball past Rochford.
Down: S Keith, M Conlon, P Hughes, B Toner, F Conway, C Woods (0-2, 1f 1 ’65), M Ennis, D Hughes (0-1), C Coulter, D Toner (0-1), P Braniff (0-6, 4f, 1pen), P Sheehan, K McGarry, G Johnson (2-1), J Coyle (0-2).
Subs: S Nicholson (1-2) for Conway, J McCusker (0-1) for Sheehan, M Turley for Toner, M Hughes for B Toner.
Kerry: B Rochford, R Horgan, L Boyle, P Costello, D O’Connell, T Murnane, D Dineen, J Griffin, D Collins, B O’Leary (0-1), W O’Dwyer (0-2), C Harty, P Boyle (1-3), A Boyle (0-1), S Nolan (1-9, 0-5f).
Subs: J Egan for Costello, G O’Brien (0-1) for Harty, S Mansell for O’Brien.
Referee: C Browne (Galway).