GOALS win games and that was the deciding factor as Down hurlers fell to a 11 point defeat to Kerry in their opening National League match on Sunday.
The winning margin somewhat flattered the Kingdom men as Down played with great gusto throughout the seventy minutes.
The killer blows were delivered in a two minute period early in the second half as the homeside turned a four point deficit into a three point lead.
It was rough justice on the Down men who had threatened to pull off an early season shock such was the quality of their hurling in the opening period.
Kerry had trailed by five points after 35 minutes, pulled it back to a two-point game at half time (0-11 to 0-9) and fallen 0-13 to 0-9 behind when the game was blown wide open by goals from Maurice O'Connor and Fionan O’Sullivan in a 60-second spell.
Moments after Down free-taker Paul Sheehan scored the only one of his 11 points from play in the 40th minute, Kerry’s Shane Nolan and captain Daniel Collins were denied goals by some courageous Mourne defending, but even at that Kerry smelled blood.
O’Sullivan tidied up with a point before O’Connor was played through he finished neatly past Stephen Keith for the game's first goal.
From the puck-out Kerry drove forward again, and when O’Sullivan broke clear of the Down defence, his follow up shot found the net after a smart initial save from Keith.
The first half had been exactly what one would have expected after a near six-month lay-off: first touch was a fraction off, speed of foot and mind was a second off, accuracy was a metre off.
Across all those metrics, however, Down were a little closer to the right number, and from Sheehan’s third minute converted free they were never behind until the 41st minute.
Sheehan converted four frees and three '65’s in the opening period, which was a fair reflection of Down’s slight dominance in the first half, as Kerry struggled to knit their passes together and make the ball stick in the inside forward line.
The Kingdom looked – and were – in trouble when they slipped to that 0-11 to 0-6 deficit after 35 minutes but additional time scores from Collins, Boyle and Maurice O’Connor were crucial to keeping them in touch at the break.
That early brace of goals fired the Kingdom’s confidence, and when O’Connor flicked his second goal in the 46th minute Kerry were coasting, 3-12 to 0-13, and they led by 11 at the second water break.
The action comes thick and fast with little time to lick your wounds so to speak.
Ballycran will be the venue on Sunday as Down welcome Carlow in Round Two.
The match gets underway at 1.00pm..
Kerry: John B O’Halloran, John Buckley, Tomas O’Connor, Eric Leen, Jason Diggins, Barry Mahony 0-01, Fionan Mackessy 0-01, Shane Nolan 1-06 (1-00 pen, 0-03f, 0-02 ‘65’), Paudie O’Connor 0-01, Brandon Barrett, Daniel Collins 0-04, Micheal Leane 0-01, Mikey Boyle 0-02, Fionna O’Sullivan 1-01, Maurice O’Connor 2-00.
Subs: Evan Murphy for T O’Connor (24, inj), Billy Lyons for E Leen (50), Donal Hunt 0-01 for M Leane (55), James O’Connor for F Mackessy (55), Niall O’Mahony for B Barrett (58, inj), Flor McCarthy for J Buckley (67), Daniel Casey for F O’Sullivan (67).
Down: Stephen Keith, Michael Hughes, Caolan Taggart, John McManus, Gerard Hughes, Matt Conlon, Liam Savage 0-01, Donal Hughes 0-01, Chris Egan, Pearse Óg McCrickard, Paul Sheehan 0-11 (0-07f, 0-03 ‘65’), Ronan Costello 0-02, Daithi Sands, Eoghan Sands 0-01, Oisin MacManus.
Subs: Mark Fisher for J McManus (29, inj), Tim Prenter 0-02 for O MacManus (ht), Tom Murray for G Hughes (42), Jordan Doran for C Egan (51), PJ Davidson 0-01 for R Costello (58), Conor Cassidy for L Savage (58).
Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow)