Down 3-16 Kerry 2-17
Down conjured up a magical triumph in the dying moments of a riveting Christy Ring Cup final at Croke Park today.
Gareth ‘Magic’ Johnson grabbed a sensational winning goal in stoppage time to stun the Kingdom and give the Mourne county a first title.
They made it third time lucky in the most dramatic of fashions, having lost the 2005 and 2009 deciders.
Kerry appeared to be on their way to victory, leading for much of the contest, but failing to put away their opponents when well on top.
And they paid the penalty when the veteran full forward grabbed his second goal of the game right at the death.
The game got off to a sensational start with two goals inside the opening three minutes.
First Down full forward Gareth ‘Magic’ Johnson made full use of the first opportunity that came his way, catching Kerry cold with a crisp shot that gave |Bernard Rochford no chance.
But the Kingdom had cancelled that score out within a minute, Padraig Boyle sidestepping his marker before squeezing ion an angled shot past Stephen Keith.
Paul Braniff kept Down’s noses in front with a couple of converted frees, but Kerry struck for a second goal in the 15th minute.
Shane Nolan, who had moments earlier had a point awarded on a Hawk-Eye call, finished to the net after brothers Padraig and Aidan Boyle had combined, the latter finding the corner forward with a neat flick.
Nolan claimed his third point from play and converted two frees as the Kingdom opened up a five points lead, but only after a let-off which saw Johnson flash a first-time shot just wide.
Down were awarded a penalty in the 29th minute after a mazy run by Michael Ennis was illegally halted, but Braniff drilled over the bar.
With Conor Woods and Michael Ennis prompting from the back, the Ulster men continued to press in the closing stages of the half, cutting the deficit further with scores from Daniel Toner, James Coyle and Donal Hughes.
Kerry still held on to a narrow 2-6 to 1-8 lead at the interval, and they pushed on with scores from Brendan O’Leary and Nolan, with Willie O’Dwyer nailing his second of the afternoon.
Down kept in touch through Conor Woods, who hit he target from placed balls from long range, and in the 48th minute their challenge was given fresh impetus when substitute Scott Nicholson grabbed their second goal.
Rochford produced a superb save from another Braniff penalty, but Nicholson was first to the rebound, finishing to the net from close range.
Down passions were stirring, and they began to believe that they were capable of making a big statement in the remainder of a game that still had more than 20 minutes to run.
They began to get on top around midfield, with Donal Hughes, Ciaran Coulter and Woods displaying their leadership qualities, and although Kerry restored their three points advantage, the men from the north were determined to fight to the death.
Nicholson continued to make an impact with two more points, and it was another sub, Johnny McCusker, who brought the sides level with four minutes to play.
Padraig Boyle’s 70th minute point appeared likely to be the decisive score, however, but in one last throw of the dice, Braniff gambled with a long punt in the direction of Johnson, who worked his magic with a deft flick that deflected the ball past Rochford.
Down: S Keith, M Conlon, P Hughes, B Toner, F Conway, C Woods (0-2, 1f 1 ’65), M Ennis, D Hughes (0-1), C Coulter, D Toner (0-1), P Braniff (0-6, 4f, 1pen), P Sheehan, K McGarry, G Johnson (2-1), J Coyle (0-2).
Subs: S Nicholson (1-2) for Conway, J McCusker (0-1) for Sheehan, M Turley for Toner, M Hughes for B Toner.
Kerry: B Rochford, R Horgan, L Boyle, P Costello, D O’Connell, T Murnane, D Dineen, J Griffin, D Collins, B O’Leary (0-1), W O’Dwyer (0-2), C Harty, P Boyle (1-3), A Boyle (0-1), S Nolan (1-9, 0-5f).
Subs: J Egan for Costello, G O’Brien (0-1) for Harty, S Mansell for O’Brien.
Referee: C Browne (Galway).