All eyes on David Clifford but it was another Kerry young gun who stole the show in win over Donegal
Kerry 2-18 Donegal 3-14
Kerry's attempt at deploying a sweeper in last year's All-Ireland semi-final replay against Mayo backfired and got a sharp thumbs down from the locals.
Donegal manager Declan Bonner has been adamant since his appointment that they must adapt their game to mirror what market leaders Dublin and Mayo regularly come up with.
In that context, a first round Allianz Division One league match in Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, even in January, that produced a cumulative 5-32 shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
Kerry and Donegal went at it for well in excess of 70 minutes, and at the end only a late point from substitute Daithi Casey, the forgotten man of Kerry football in many respects, divided them.
But so much in between happened, from the madness of some of the goals to the number of cards dished out, (three red, nine yellow) as these counties renewed their tetchy recent rivalry.
Donegal league debutant Nathan Mullins, son of Dublin great Brian, was sent off in the 19th minute for an off the ball incident involving Kerry's Brendan O'Sullivan. They had also lost goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley to a quad injury just before that.
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That should have been the cue for the home team, already 1-5 to 0-4 ahead after Stephen O'Brien's goal a minute earlier, to go on and win well.
But Donegal were resolute and hit a hapless Kerry defence for three second half goals, the last of which, from substitute Darach O'Connor, looked like it would be enough to give them a first victory on Kerry soil in 30 years.
But whatever frustration Kerry had at allowing themselves to get into such a position with an extra man for so long was eroded somewhat by the manner in which they responded.
First Sean O'Shea, one of eight league debutants in total and, along with David Clifford, an undoubted jewel, landed a 45-metre free after Casey had been grounded to draw level. Then Casey himself, always looking for gaps to exploit his running power against a tiring defence, then picked his way through a tackle to deliver a popular winner.
Out of sight with Kerry since the end of the 2015 league, it was a timely reminder of his potential, and what he does so often for Dr Crokes.
"He has been playing absolutely fantastic football for Crokes and he was on our radar last year. He is a great guy, works hard, good for him to be back in. For a Killarney man to get a great score like that at the end to win the game by a point is all good," said Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice.
But on an afternoon of so many debuts, O'Shea stole the show - by the 15th minute he had landed his three points from play but it was the composure with which he nailed his fourth and last free from distance that stood out. For technique and nerve it was of the highest quality.
He may have been in the best supporting actor category beforehand as Clifford took his first bow too but by the end it was the 20-year-old Kenmare man who looks best equipped to make the most immediate impact.
Clifford had a satisfactory debut too, setting up 1-3, including a free for himself. He had to endure a tough physical examination at times, there were a few snatched kicks and by the time he was withdrawn in the 48th minute Donegal were in the ascendancy.
Kerry's analysis will focus on the three goals, especially the space with which each scorer found himself in. But maybe that was to be expected given their approach. Jason Foley moved out from full-back in the opening half as Donegal dropped extra numbers to midfield and stayed out after Mullins' dismissal.
That made it a hard afternoon for Cormac Coffey and Shane Enright, who were left inside without much protection, allowing Paddy McBrearty and Odhran MacNiallais to thrive.
Kerry led by 1-8 to 0-8 at the break but were hit with the first of those goals within 90 seconds of the restart, McBrearty's ball putting Tony McClenaghan clear and in isolation, allowing him to pick his spot.
Gradually the visitors got on top, helped by Paul Geaney blasting a penalty over for a point in the 54th minute after the impressive Paul Murphy was fouled, and used their own kick-out as an intelligent platform.
It was this route that created the second goal with MacNiallias, growing in stature through the second half, linking with O'Donnell to bat home for a 2-14 to 1-13 lead on 60 minutes.
The drama was only beginning. Geaney got a second Kerry goal and then O'Brien, O'Shea (free) and substitute Killian Spillane, another newcomer, put them two in front again.
But they were never comfortable pressing Donegal so high and that left gaps which O'Connor exploited on 71 minutes for the lead again before Casey led a successful rescue effort.
Fitzmaurice conceded their fragility. "We were open. There's no doubt, we conceded goals. Donegal, you could see, were looking for that, they're good at that long kick-out and getting a knock on and going," he acknowledged.
"We didn't deal well with it but like I said it's something we can improve on for the future. There was a bit of inexperience, some of the things we did were naive but I think that's the payback. You have to be prepared to take that when you're trying out a lot of new players together."
Bonner also feels Donegal's adaptation will come at a cost. "There is no point in trying to shut up shop getting 13 or 14 men behind the ball," he said.
"We've tried it. We have to become more adaptable to the way the game is being played. When I looked at the All-Ireland final there were a lot of one v one situations, Dublin and Mayo are the benchmark. They have proper defenders and they can also attack so we've got to try and get to that level. We're well off it at the minute."
Late on, Kerry's Gavin Crowley and Donegal's McClenaghan were red carded after being shown second yellows.
The Kerry supporters among the 10,977 crowd went home relieved and excited that the promise of recent years has delivered something tangible, albeit erratic.