THESE are troubling times in Kerry – and new manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice says that his team is 'staring down the barrel' after being swatted aside by Donegal in Ballybofey.
Kerry are without a point from their four games and Michael Murphy's brilliance piled the pressure on the Kingdom, who had defenderTomas O Se (right) sent off for an off-the-ball kick on Ryan McHugh in the 40th minute.
With Marc O Se going off injured in the first half and Kieran Donaghy being carried off MacCumhaill Park after the final whistle, the signs are worrying with Kerry now firmly rooted to the basement.
"We've known all along we have a lot of work to do, it's a seriously competitive division and unfortunately now we are staring down the barrel," Fitzmaurice said amid a brief snowfall.
"We just have to keep trying to get that win.
"If we could get two points on the board we are still there and might get a bit of momentum going, but we just can't seem to get anything and our momentum is going in the wrong direction."
The warning signs were posted early on. Five minutes in, Ross Wherity was bundled over by Johnny Buckley and Michael Murphy stepped up to slam home the penalty.
Murphy dispatched his kick beyond Brendan Kealy to the same side at which he had been denied by Tyrone's Niall Morgan the previous weekend.
The returned Patrick McBrearty was on a mission to impress and his sumptuous effort in the ninth minute had Donegal six ahead. Murphy's paws were all over anything that was good about Donegal.
A beauty from the shadows of the stand in the 20th minute came after Buckley and Tomas O Se finally broke the Kerry duck.
Murphy might have had a second penalty when he was taken down by Aidan O'Mahony, but Derek Fahy waved play on.
Donegal's penetrative bursts from deep, with Leo McLoone, Rory Kavanagh, Ryan Bradley and Ryan McHugh all making telling incisions, had Kerry in trouble and at the break Donegal held a 1-5 to 0-3 cushion.
"We were playing the game on their terms rather than ours," reflected Fitzmaurice afterwards.
"I'm definitely not going to be playing a blame game here, we'll go back and analyse it." The analysis will make for painful viewing.
Kerry failed to score in a 28-minute spell from the 25th to the 53rd minutes when Darran O'Sullivan popped over.
By that stage, Murphy, McLoone, Kavanagh and Neil Gallagher had widened the margin to nine, while Tomas O Se saw red just five minutes into the second period.
Kerry's forward line had nothing with which to trouble the Donegal rearguard until Donaghy was sent to the edge of the square.
The horse had bolted by then and at the other end Murphy reminded the 5,000 in attendance of his excellence with a classy score nine minutes from the end.
Buckley had been the one bright light for Kerry and he ended with three points to his name.
Kerry's afternoon was summed up when they were handed a chance to bring some much-needed respectability back on the scoreboard as Eamon McGee fouled Donaghy for a penalty.
Sub Kieran O'Leary saw his effort brilliantly saved by the legs of Paul Durcan, who moments earlier had thwarted O'Leary with an equally impressive save down low to his left.
With the final kick of the game, Murphy turned the knife in a little deeper with a trademark free that confirmed a nine-point win for Donegal whose manager Jim McGuinness was encouraged by the win.
"I wouldn't say it was perfect," he said, "but we were able to try out a few things. We tried Ryan McHugh at half-back, we tried out Ross Wherity again and we experimented a few other things off the bench too."
The aim of the game for McGuinness is clearly designed towards the championship – and the Donegal boss is unbothered about potentially reaching a league semi-final.
"Nah, not really," he said. "It's not that we don't want to be in the league semi-final, but we want to get out of the league what we set about getting and that's looking at players and at different styles of play. We've managed to get four points on the back of that and hopefully another two will keep us up.
"We're just trying to build towards the summer and trying to build the squad. We want to build players and build fitness. Today, we managed to merge all of those things."
Kerry now host Down in a real relegation four-pointer. Fitzmaurice's honeymoon period has well and truly vanished.
There could yet be a return for some of the more stellar Kingdom faces, but there was nothing convincing by their manager when he said that 'maybe' Paul Galvin and maybe Declan O'Sullivan 'might be available' while he sighed that Anthony Maher 'might be okay'.
He said: "We have a lot of work to do, and we are just going to go back at it this week and try and get our house in order. Hopefully we can get a few bodies back and try and be competitive against Down, because it's a massive game for us now."
Man of the match: M Murphy (Donegal)
Scorers – Donegal: M Murphy 1-5 (1-0 pen, 2f), L McLoone 0-2, C McFadden (f), P McBrearty, R Bradley, N Gallagher, R Kavanagh 0-1 each. Kerry: J Buckley 0-3 (1f), T O Se, D O'Sullivan, E Brosnan 0-1 each.
DONEGAL – P Durcan 8; P McGrath 7, N McGee 7, E McGee 6; F McGlynn 6, D Walsh 6, R McHugh 6; R Kavanagh 8, N Gallagher 7; R Wherity 6, L McLoone 7, R Bradley 7; P McBrearty 8, M Murphy 9, C McFadden 6. Subs: M McElhinney 6 for Wherity (53), D Molloy 6 for McBrearty (55), M Smyth 5 for Kavanagh (61), G McFadden 5 for Gallagher (64).
KERRY - B Kealy 6; M O Se 5, A O'Mahony 5, S Enright 5; T O Se 5, K Young 5, P Crowley 5; K Donaghy 7, E Brosnan 6; J Lyne 5, D Walsh 6, Johnny Buckley 7; J O'Donoghue 5, D O'Sullivan 6, M Geaney 5. Subs: B McGuire 5 for M O Se (28); F Fitzgerald 5 for O'Donoghue (47), J Sherwood 5 for Crowley (53), K O'Leary 5 for O'Sullivan (61), A Garnett 5 for Buckley (70).
REF - D Fahy (Longford)