Donaghy and Cooper return as Kerry hammer Down
Kerry 0-22 Down 0-6
The sight of the Kerry squad being surrounded by hundreds of Down supporters as they tried to conduct their warm-down on the pitch in Páirc Esler was a bizarre spectacle, but an indication of the esteem in which these Gaelic football superstars are held in these parts.
The Down players obviously felt in awe too, because they laid not a glove on the Kingdom in a humiliating defeat which brought their relegation from Division 1 ever closer.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice could not have chosen a better game to bring Kieran Donaghy and Colm Cooper out of cold storage.
What better way to gently reintroduce football royalty to a new season than into a game with no intensity, against opponents with no threat?
The pair made their first appearances of 2016 yesterday, with Fitzmaurice delighted to chalk up his first 'W' of this Allianz League campaign.
"It was important to get a win today and it was great to get some of the lads back," he said. "We're still a bit away but we played well, whereas Down were below par. I think they're better than that.
"It can be difficult in the league when you get a run of games against you, and we have been there ourselves, so it was important for us to arrest that."
Donaghy started at midfield in place of David Moran who suffered a hand injury late in the week. Gooch came on for the last 30 minutes and hit 0-3 and, in a damning statistic for Down, Kerry's subs actually scored more (0-8) than Down's entire starting team. The Mourne county also went 30 minutes without scoring either side of half-time.
Aidan Walsh also made his debut on a day with lots of positives for Kerry. There was an interesting experiment for Paul Murphy positioned at centre-forward, where he excelled.
Kerry hit the first three points through Darran O'Sullivan, Alan Fitzgerald and Bryan Sheehan, who top-scored with 0-6. Down struggled to convert their shots at goal, hitting three first-half wides and dropping the same number short into Brendan Kealy's hands. But they fought back with three points inside four minutes to draw level after 17 minutes. That was good as it got for Down, with Kerry reeling off an unanswered six points before the break. O'Sullivan, whose pace wreaked havoc in the Down defence, added two more points with Stephen O'Brien and Sheehan also scoring from play as Kerry romped into a 0-9 to 0-3 interval lead.
The gap should have been even greater had Murphy not fluffed a great goal-scoring chance. Otherwise, he pulled the strings well in his new position with Fitzmaurice describing his display as "outstanding".
Sheehan's '45 at the start of the second half stretched Kerry's lead before Conor Maginn stroked over a 45th-minute point to end the scoring drought for the home side. Within seconds, Kerry brought on Cooper and the game disappeared over the horizon. It was hard not to feel sympathy for Eamonn Burns, who insisted the Down manager's job was not a poisoned chalice.
"No, I don't look at it like that. I played football for this county for many, many years. It's an honour to manage them. It's very disappointing after our performance against Monaghan. The boys were in very good form going into it ... some things are hard to explain in football."
Asked to explain the lack of fight in the team, Burns admitted: "We were a wee bit off the mark in certain sectors there, which was disappointing because there was no indication that was coming at us".
"But we can turn it around. We'll get our heads together and plan for Roscommon."
Scorers - Down: B O'Hagan 0-2, C Harrison 0-2 (2f), C Maginn, R Mallon 0-1 each. Kerry: B Sheehan 0-6 (2f, 2 '45), D O'Sullivan 0-4, A Fitzgerald 0-3 (2f), C Cooper 0-3 (2f), BJ Keane 0-3 (1f), B O'Sullivan 0-2, S O'Brien 0-1.
Down - M Cunningham 8; L Howard 6, G McGovern 7, D O'Hagan 6; C McGovern 6, A Carr 6, D O'Hanlon 6; P Turley 6, M McKay 6; J Murphy 6, M Poland 6, K McKernan 6; C Maginn 7, C Harrison 6, B O'Hagan 7. Subs: J Flynn 6 for Carr (27), R Mallon 7 for Murphy (37), R Boyle 6 for Howard (41), M Magee 6 for O'Hagan (43), H Brown 6 for Turley (53), D O'Hare 6 for O'Hagan (57).
Kerry - B Kealy 7; M O Se 7, M Griffin 7, S Enright 7; P O'Connor 7, A O'Mahony 7, F Fitzgerald 7; K Donaghy 7, B Sheehan 9; A Walsh 7, P Murphy 9, D Walsh 7; D O'Sullivan 9, A Fitzgerald 7, S O'Brien 7. Subs: C Cooper 8 for Walsh (43), P Crowley 7 for O'Connor (48), BJ Keane 8 for A Fitzgerald (59), P Kilkenny 7 for O Se (60), T Walsh 7 for Donaghy (63), B O'Sullivan 8 for D Walsh (64).
Ref - Marty Duffy (Sligo)