A month ago on the Ards peninsula, Down had two points to spare over Kerry in a crucial National League game; this afternoon in Tralee the winning margin was double that as Down secured another significant win, this time in the opening round of the Joe McDonagh Cup.

The visitors to Austin Stack Park fully deserved this victory, and had the luxury of tapping a late penalty over the bar to make it a four-point game in additional time. However even deeper into added time Kerry had a penalty saved when a goal would have closed the gap to a point.

Kerry ultimately paid the price for conceding a goal to Daithi Sands inside the first 20 seconds, as the Portaferry man capitalised on a defensive slip to put the sliotar past Louis Dee to stun the home supporters.

That goal stunned the Kerry players too, who seemed to play throughout with a lethargy and heaviness that allowed Down, by and large, play the game on their terms.

The first half – that early Sands goal apart – was effectively a free-taking shoot-out between Shane Conway and Paul Sheehan, with the former converting seven frees for the home side, while Sheehan was on the mark five times for Down, four from frees and one '65'.

Down were a little crisper in their hurling; their first touch was better, and their passing a little shorter and more accurate. Kerry positioned Fionan Mackessy in a deep lying role, tucked between the full back and half back lines, but they might have been better served with the big St Brendans' man in a more central role.

By the 18th minute it was 0-5 to 1-5 and Conway and Sheehan traded scores, but by the 34th minute Kerry had wiped out the goal deficit with the score at 0-10 to 1-7, and a fine score by Michael Leane in added time had Kerry 0-11 to 1-7 ahead at the interval.

An early Podge Boyle point boded well for Kerry at the start of the second half, but thereafter Sheehan was unerring from placed balls, and Down pulled level by the 49th minute, 0-14 to 1-11.

The scores were still all square on the hour mark but there seemed more purpose collectively from Down, while Kerry’s ill-discipline in the tackle was presenting Sheehan with tap over frees.

When Daithi Sands pointed from play in the 63rd minute his goal was a difference again, 1-16 to 0-16, and when Down won their penalty in the 72nd minute, Oisin McManus - now on for Sheehan - opted to take a point to make it 1-19 to 0-18.

That looked the wise option until Niall Mulcahy won a Kerry penalty, but Stephen Keith saved smartly from Conway’s strike and Kerry’s challenge was over.

It won’t get any easier for Kerry who travel to Carlow next weekend, while Down host Antrim in an Ulster derby.

Kerry: Louis Dee, Conor O'Keeffe, Flor McCarthy, Eoin Ross, Reic Leen, Michael Leane 0-01, Paudie O’Connor, Fionan Mackessy, Colin Walsh, Padraig Boyle 0-05 (0-03f), Colum Harty, Maurice O’Connor, Daniel Collins, Gavin Dooley, Shane Conway 0-11 (0-08f).

Subs: Niall Mulcahy 0-01 for M O’Connor (48), Sean Weir for C Walsh (63), Brian Lonergan for G Dooley (66)

Down: Stephen Keith, Michael Hughes, John McManus, Tom Murray, Barry Trainor, Matt Conlon, Caolan Teggart, Pears Og McCrickard 0-02, Liam Savage, Ryan McCusker, Paul Sheehan 0-14 (0-12f, 0-02 '65’), Darragh Mallon, Daithi Sands 1-01, Chris Egan, Eoghan Sands.

Subs: Jordan Doran for R McClusker (10, inj), Marc Fisher 0-01 for C Egan (43), Declan McCartney for M Hughes (54), Gerard Hughes for T Murray (58), Oisin McManus 0-01 for P Sheehan (67)

Referee: Kevin Jordan (Tipperary)