Although, it provided them with their first two points and a 16-point winning margin, which could prove invaluable by the end of the campaign.
Down, who already looked doomed to exit Division 1, gave up long before the final whistle but the seven unanswered points Kerry tagged on in the final nine minutes gives their score difference, which now reads +9, a healthy complexion.
Score difference has proven vital in Kerry’s league fortunes in recent years. Last year, they missed out on a semi-final spot because of an inferior figure to Donegal. The same happened in 2013 when they finished on the same number of points as Mayo and Cork but Mayo made the last four because of a better scoring return.
“The scoring difference can be very important when it’s tight,” acknowledged Eamonn Fitzmaurice. “It comes into it if three teams are on the same mark and head-to-head if it’s two teams so it is very important to keep the scoring difference going in the right direction. We lost the first couple of games and thankfully there wasn’t a tanking in there and it meant we were in a decent enough position.”
Paul Murphy’s display in his new role at centre-forward was a talking point from this game — Fitzmaurice describing him as “outstanding” — as was the fine form of Darran O’Sullivan and leadership provided by Bryan Sheehan in midfield where he was partnered by Kieran Donaghy, a late replacement for David Moran who picked up a hand injury in training.
Murphy was at the end of one of Kerry’s three clear-cut goal chances. Coming in first half injury-time, Donnchadh Walsh squared the ball across the parallelogram but Murphy palmed it wide and the scoreline finished 0-9 to 0-3 at the interval.
The other goal opportunities happened within seconds of each other in the 50th minute when O’Sullivan’s shot was blocked by goalkeeper Michael Cunningham and Stephen O’Brien’s follow-up strike was cleared by Gerard McGovern.
Arriving into the fray early in the second half, Colm Cooper made his first appearance of the year, helping himself to three points, as did fellow substitute Barry John Keane as Down wilted dramatically in the latter stages.
Fitzmaurice admitted he didn’t think the win would come so easy for his side. “We’ve been able to train well for the last couple of weeks. We’ve got a few more bodies back and it was very important to get a win. I think we played well, Down played a little bit below par. I think they’re better than that.
“It can be difficult when things are go against you early in the league. If you’ve that momentum going against you it can be tough. We’ve been there in the past so it was important for us to arrest that.”
Down didn’t score for a 31-minute period from the middle of the first half until almost 10 minutes into the second half. Their manager, Eamonn Burns, appeared shell-shocked by the manner of the defeat. “We were a bit off the mark in different sectors, which was disappointing because there was no indication that was coming at us but we’ll have a look at that and see where we go.”
Meanwhile, Fitzmaurice believes Congress’ decision on Saturday not to bring forward the All-Ireland finals by two weeks indicates there is not enough support for the calendar year.
“Of the things that came out, it was probably a bit surprising. It shows that there’s not an appetite for change with regard to the calendar year and I don’t think it’s a thing that can be moaned about anymore. Often times, it’s like the inter-county teams are dictating everything. We’re not. The calendar is there and you fulfil your fixtures as seen fit. I’ve always thought the inter-county calendar should be tightened up by more than two weeks on either side (start and finish). I think you could tighten it up by six to eight weeks.
“That would give a much bigger window for the clubs and would mean there aren’t these huge gaps in the inter-county season. It just shows the appetite for change isn’t there and we can’t be moaning about having games in December and January now because this is the decision that has been made.”
C Harrison (frees), B O’Hagan (0-2 each); C Maginn, R Mallon (0-1 each).
B Sheehan (0-6, 2 frees, 2 45s); D O’Sullivan (0-4); A Fitzgerald (2 frees), C Cooper (2 frees), BJ Keane (1 free) (0-3 each); B O’Sullivan (0-2); S O’Brien (0-1).
M Cunningham; L Howard, G McGovern, D O’Hagan; D O’Hanlon, A Carr, C McGovern; P Turley, M McKay; M Poland, K McKernan, J Murphy; B O’Hagan, C Harrison, C Maginn.
J Flynn for A Carr (27); R Mallon for J Murphy (inj 37); R Boyle for L Howard, M Magee for D O’Hagan (both 42); H Brown for P Turley (53); D O’Hare for B O’Hagan (57).
B Kealy; M Ó Sé, M Griffin, S Enright; P O’Connor, A O’Mahony, F Fitzgerald; K Donaghy, B Sheehan; D Walsh, P Murphy, A Walsh; D O’Sullivan, A Fitzgerald, S O’Brien.
C Cooper for A Walsh (42); P Crowley for P O’Connor (48); BJ Keane for A Fitzgerald (59); P Kilkenny for M Ó Sé (60); T Walsh for K Donaghy (63); B O’Sullivan for D Walsh (64).
M Duffy (Sligo)