There was no stage of Sunday's Christy Ring Cup final when you could have said that Kildare looked like the better team in what was a tense contest against an impressive Down side, but in the end their ability to find goals out of little or nothing proved to be just about enough to prevail.
After accounting for Offaly in such dramatic circumstances a week ago, Down came into this contest on a huge high, but they struggled to get out of the blocks early on, falling five points behind after six minutes.
David Slattery and Paul Divilly shot points either side of the first of Brian Byrne's six converted frees, and then a crucial break fell their way when Stephen Keith parried a Jack Sheridan shot, only for the sliotar to break perfectly into the path of Tadhg Forde for a simple finish.
Down struggled to get traction close to goal up against a Kildare sweeper, with neither Eoghan nor Daithí Sands in the game at any stage. Further out the field however, they posed a real scoring threat.
Pearse Óg McCrickard and Tim Prenter knocked over some wonderful points as the Mourne men drew level by the water break, and while they never looked like threatening a goal, they looked far more capable of racking up a decent number of white flags.
Kildare’s aerial ability and the quality of their delivery into the forward line kept them in the game, but with key attackers James Burke and Jack Sheridan misfiring, not to mention some exemplary full-back play from Caolan Taggart, the contest remained deadlocked until just before half-time.
A long ball into the full-forward line wasn’t well-handled by John McManus, and Divilly was able to scoop up possession 35 metres out from the Down goal.
He still had a lot of work to do, but one sidestep was enough to give him a bit of breathing room, and with the Down defenders backing off and expecting a pass, he took up the invitation to drive on towards goal and pick out the bottom corner, making it 2-07 to 0-10 at the interval.
The first two points of the second half went Down’s way, coming from Donal Hughes and Oisín McManus, but again Kildare were able to get that vital yard of space close to goal, unlike Down who always seemed to run into a wall of bodies if they got inside the Kildare 20-metre line.
This time it was Jack Sheridan, who had just got off the mark from a free, who did the damage. He picked up a breaking ball behind the full-back line and produced a surgeon’s finish from an incredibly tight angle, slipping the ball underneath the advancing Stephen Keith.
That left Kildare with a six-point cushion and they needed it, as Down rallied, firing six of the next seven points. Paul Sheehan and 20-year-old Phelim Savage offered craft and skill around half-forward they helped Down to unlock the Kildare defence on a handful of occasions, setting up a grandstand finish.
Yet with the game in the balance, Kildare always found a way to get a score and keep their noses in front. Substitute Shane Ryan produced the score of the game from out on the left wing, while a series of long-range dead ball scores from Sheridan were just about enough to keep a fast-finishing Down side at bay and confirm their third ever Christy Ring Cup triumph.
Kildare: Mark Doyle; Simon Leacy, John Doran, Cian Shanahan; Niall Ó Muineacháin, Rian Boran, Kevin Whelan; Cathal Dowling, Paul Divilly (1-01); Brian Byrne (0-07, 0-06f), James Burke (0-02), Conor Dowling; Tadhg Forde (1-00), David Slattery (0-01), Jack Sheridan (1-04, 0-03f, 0-01 '65).
Subs: Seán Christanseen for Shanahan (43), Shane Ryan (0-01) for Dowling (51), Kevin Aherne for Forde (54), Cathal McCabe for Slattery (69)
Down: Stephen Keith; Michael Hughes, Caolan Taggart, Tom Murray; Barry Trainor, Conor Woods (0-01f), Liam Savage; Matt Conlon, John McManus; Donal Hughes (0-01), Pearse Óg McCrickard (0-04, 0-01 s/l), Tim Prenter (0-04); Oisín McManus (0-09, 0-07f), Eoghan Sands, Daithí Sands (0-01).
Subs: Gerard Hughes for Trainor (27), Phelim Savage for M Hughes (half-time), Chris Egan for D Hughes (53), Paul Sheehan (0-02, 0-01f) for O McManus (53), Ryan McCusker for McCrickard (66).
Referee: Chris Mooney (Dublin).