When these two sides met in the Allianz League seven weeks ago Kerry were 11-point winners, and while today's Joe McDonagh Cup win wasn’t quite as comfortable back in Tralee, this was a more important result for the Kingdom who can fancy themselves to reach the final if they can beat Meath in a fortnight.
Kerry could never quite shake off a resilient Down side, and it took a sliver of magic from Shane Conway in the 58th minute for his goal to kill off a growing Down comeback. The Mourne men had hit four unanswered points at that stage to cut an eight-point deficit to four, with Kerry desperate for a score at that stage to stop the rot.
Conway flicked Fionan Mackessey’s delivery down to himself on the turn to leave himself with an unobstructed run at Stephen Keith’s goal and there was only one outcome from there.
Kerry had led by six at the interval and thanks to a volley of three scores around the water break from Barry Mahony and the Boyle brothers, Mikey and Padraig, they looked good for the win as they led 1-20 to 1-12 after 49 minutes.
Down then hit points from Donal Hughes and subs Ryan McCusker and Oisin MacManus (two frees) to make it a four-point game before Conway turned the game back in Kerry’s favour.
The first 10 minutes of the game had seen Kerry race into a 0-05 to 0-01 lead before Down hit back with a Paul Sheehan point and a brilliantly taken goal from Pearse Og McCrickard to level the scores by the 12th minute.
The teams were still deadlocked at the water break, 1-4 to 0-07, with Mikey Boyle scoring his second and third points for the Kingdom, who were hurling with confidence and cohesion by now.
A couple of Conway scores, along with white flags from Shane Nolan and Padraig Boyle nudged Kerry into a 0-11 to 1-05 lead before Down midfielder Hughes raked over a fine score before setting up Sheehan for his first point from play.
It was 0-12 to 1-07 in the 31st minute when Kerry corner forward Cian Hussey collected the ball, slipped inside the Down cover and did well, under pressure, to slip the ball past Stephen Keith for a goal that put Kerry into a deserved five-point lead, which the extended to six, 1-14 to 1-8, by the interval.
Down play Meath next weekend with the Ulster men needing to win to keep their interest in the competition alive, before Kerry travel to Meath where a win should be enough to send them to the final.
Kerry: John B O’Halloran, James O’Connor, Evan Murphy, Eric Leen, Conor O’Keeffe, Fionan Mackessy, Jason Diggins, Paudie O’Connor, Shane Nolan 0-04 (0-01f), Mikey Boyle 0-04, Barry O’Mahony 0-03, Brendan O’Leary, Padraig Boyle 0-04, Shane Conway 1-08 (0-05f, 0-01 '65’), Cian Hussey 1-00.
Subs: Tomas O’Connor for J O’Connor (23), Bryan Murphy for B O’Leary (66), Fionan O’Sullivan 0-01 for M Boyle (70), Donal Hunt for C Hussey (70), Eoin Ross for E Leen (72)
Down: Stephen Keith, Conor Cassidy, Caolan Taggart, John McManus, Matt Conlon, Matt Woods 0-01 ‘65’, Liam Savage, Donal Hughes 0-02, Jordan Doran, Chris Egan, Paul Sheehan 0-05 (0-01f), Marc Fisher, Pearse Og McCrickard 1-03, Eoghan Sands 0-01, Daithai Sands 0-02.
Subs: Ryan McCusker 0-01 for M Fisher (ht), Tim Prenter 0-01 for J Doran (45), Phelim Savage 0-01 for R McCusker (48), Oisin MacManus0-04 (0-04f) for P Sheehan (50), PJ Davidson for D Hughes (73)
Referee: Cathal McAllister (Cork)