Down hurling manager Jim McKernan has derived a double-edged bonus from his team’s early flourish in the Christy Ring Cup.
Back-to-back wins have helped to thrust his team into the frame for silverware and have also provided a timely fillip in advance of the Ulster Championship.
“This win over Kerry proved a very useful outing for us, but we know we have more work to do,” said McKernan, a former Antrim boss.
“We have not been helped lately by injuries and unavailability, but hopefully this situation will ease.”
Down’s modest progress in the Christy Ring Cup so far has been highlighted by a more palpable team ethic, some resilient defending and the return to form of Gareth ‘Magic’ Johnston
The dual-code player — he is equally proficient in football as well as hurling — stepped up again to take a centre-stage role against the Kingdom, grabbing two second-half goals that underpinned Down’s impressive victory.
James Coyle fired their opener almost from the throw-in, but despite their bright opening, the visitors conceded ground to their hosts who led by 1-7 to 1-6 at the break, with John McCarthy grabbing their goal.
The Kingdom, inspired by the accuracy of Shane Brick continued to pose problems for the visitors until Johnston’s second goal arrived, but even then it took two superb injury-time saves by Down goalkeeper Graham Clarke, who was in top form, to deny the dangerous John Mike Dooley as a hungry Kerry pressed strongly in the closing stages, refusing to give up on victory.
Manager McKernan knows that his team now have more hope in their hearts, but is also aware that bigger challenges loom.
“We are in much better shape than we were previously and hopefully we can improve further,” he added.
Down scorers: G Johnston (2-0), S Wilson (0-6), J Coyle (1-0), P Braniff (0-3), C Woods, M Coulter (0-1 each).
Kerry scorers: S Brick (0-9), J McCarthy (1-0), M Ennis (1-0), J M Dooley (0-1).