Kerry have won better All-Ireland finals at the end of superior campaigns than Championship 2014 but, for pure satisfaction and vindication, yesterday's success takes some beating.
Their 37th All-Ireland triumph arrived in a season which started with what looked like a calamitous setback when Colm Cooper was ruled out for the year and when their Allianz League campaign lurched unsteadily before ending with a thumping defeat by Cork.
And while early-season travails haven't been known to destabilise Kerry down through the years, there was a distinct feeling last April that this season would be more of a work-in-progress than the finished article.
In a sense, that's still the case but, to their delight, they discovered that not only could they prosper without The Gooch, they were also good enough to outwit all-comers.
That included Donegal, who were hoisted into the favourites' stall after chopping down defending champions, Dublin with ruthless force in the semi-final. They hit Dublin for 3-14, but came up 11 points short of that total yesterday.
It left Kerry's 2-9 as more than enough to see them safely home in what was the lowest-scoring All-Ireland final since 2003 when Tyrone outpointed Armagh by 0-12 to 0-9.
It was the first time since 1996 that 11 scores were enough to win the All-Ireland final, another telling indicator of how much on top defences were. It coalesced into producing a contest which certainly won't be lodging an application for inclusion in the catalogue of classics.
All of which is utterly irrelevant to Kerry, who worked their way calmly and resolutely through a Donegal challenge that was uncharacteristically sloppy at times.
Precision under pressure has been a hallmark of Donegal in the Jim McGuinness era but that was often absent yesterday, not least for the concession of both goals, which proved so influential.
Donegal had given away only two goals in their five-win march to the final, but were breached in the first minute yesterday.
Stephen O'Brien's speculative hoist towards the Donegal goal didn't look especially threatening but Kerry corner-forward Paul Geaney made the most of it, fetching and turning in a slick double-movement before angling the ball past Paul Durcan.
Kieran Donaghy followed up with a point in the fourth minute and, suddenly, a high-scoring encounter looked possible,
If only! The next 47 minutes produced a total of 10 points, in a 7-3 split to Donegal, leaving it all square after 51 minutes. The standard of finishing dipped alarmingly in the 15 minutes after half-time, with Kerry shooting five wides and Donegal four.
Kerry sub Barry John Keane nudged Kerry ahead with a pointed free in the 52nd minute before Paul Durcan's catastrophic error gifted Kerry the goal which effectively decided the game.
His short kick-out was seriously misdirected, allowing Donaghy to intercept, and in a matter of seconds, the ball was nestling in the Donegal net, leaving them facing another big salvage effort.
They achieved it after falling four points behind early in the first half and looked as if they might do likewise when they kicked 0-3 in a three-minute spell after Donaghy's goal.
It left them a point adrift after 55 minutes, but they just couldn't land the equaliser. Instead, it was Kerry, who hit another golden streak, pointing three times between the 57th and 61st minutes, before Donegal cut two points off the deficit.
Significantly, though, Kerry were playing from the front, enabling them to be patient in possession.
And since it was very difficult to break down the Donegal defence, Kerry had no reason to take risks in the closing minutes.
Instead, they guarded possession carefully and methodically, passing across the pitch and even funnelling backwards as Donegal desperately tried to hunt them down.
Kerry's patience was rewarded in the 68th minute when they earned a long-range free, which sub Bryan Sheehan pointed.
It left Donegal needing a goal to snatch a draw and the chance did arise in the final minute when Michael Murphy (who could have been penalised for charging) placed McBrearty as he bore down on the Kerry goal.
His shot was parried by Kerry goalkeeper Brian Kelly and, as the ball broke loose, Colm McFadden got a hand to it but, to Donegal's despair, it clipped the goalpost.
It was Donegal's final chance on a day when their defensive instincts weighed too heavily on them.
Restricting the opposition is a laudable tactic, but it has to be accompanied by a workable method of organising score-building moves.
Apart from the lead-in to both goals, Donegal did well on the defensive side of their game but not on the attacking front.
Their starting forwards scored only two points from open play, none until the 29th minute, leaving them largely reliant on frees in the first half to nibble into Kerry's lead.
That process was helped enormously by Eddie Kinsella's take on things as he awarded 10 frees to Donegal in the first half, compared to one for Kerry. It was difficult to fathom why the differential was so marked.
It was level at half-time (1-3 to 0-6), a situation which appeared more pleasing for Donegal who had out-scored Kerry by 0-6 to 0-2 after the early setbacks.
The third quarter has been consistently productive for Donegal in recent years and when Murphy, who had a frustrating day overall, pointed them into the lead in the 38th minute, it raised serious questions of Kerry.
Their response was impressive in difficult circumstances. With James O'Donoghue being forced ever further from goal and under intense pressure from Neil McGee, Kerry's scoring threat wasn't anything like as potent as it had been earlier in the campaign.
Donaghy was waging a one-man war against a heavily manned defence close to Durcan's goal and while he did it extremely well, it was still difficult to see how Kerry would create a second goal.
They opted for long range shooting in an attempt to out-manoeuvre Donegal but were let down by inaccuracy. It really was finely balanced until Durcan's mistake handed Donaghy the precious three-pointer at a crucial stage of proceedings.
Donegal were left deeply frustrated by a performance which had so little in common with the semi-final success that it looked like a completely different team.
But then, Kerry presented a much-different challenge to Dublin, opting instead to take a leaf out of Donegal's defensive book.
They actually did it better than Donegal, especially in the closing minutes when retaining possession was so important. And with gods having smiled on them for Donaghy's goal, they weren't going to be denied.
Scorers - Kerry: P Geaney (1f), K Donaghy 1-2 each, BJ Keane 0-2 (2fs), P Murphy, B Sheehan (f), J Buckley 0-1 each.
Donegal: M Murphy 0-4 (3f), P McBrearty 0-2, C McFadden, O MacNiallais, K Lacey, N McGee, D Molloy, C Toye 0-1 each.
Kerry - B Kelly; M O Se, A O'Mahony, F Fitzgerald; P Murphy, P Crowley, K Young; A Maher, D Moran; D Walsh, S O'Brien, J Buckley; P Geaney, K Donaghy, J O'Donoghue. Subs: M Geaney for O'Brien (h-t), BJ Keane for P Geaney (49), S Enright for Fitzgerald (55), Declan O'Sullivan for Walsh(57), B Sheehan for Moran (68), K O'Leary for Donaghy.
Donegal - P Durcan; N McGee, E McGee, P McGrath; A Thompson, K Lacey, F McGlynn; R Kavanagh, N Gallagher; O MacNiallais, L McLoone, R McHugh; C McFadden, M Murphy, D O'Connor.
Subs: C Toye for O'Connor (28), P McBrearty for McHugh (46), M McElhinney for MacNiallais (52), D Walsh for McLoone (57), D Molloy for Kavanagh (64).
REF - E Kinsella (Laois)
Man of the match
Kieran Donaghy (Kerry)
Top scorer from open play on 1-2, he waged a one-man war close to the Donegal goal. His awareness and opportunism for his 52nd-minute goal was the ultimate game-changer.
Kieran Donaghy's goal in the 52nd minute, gifted by a stray kick-out from Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan, put Kerry four points clear, a big lead in a game where scores were so hard to come by.
How did Kerry rebuild a season that appeared to be headed for mediocrity when they lost Colm Cooper to injury and ran a very disappointing Allianz League campaign?
No point trying to dress it - magic dust was in short supply on an afternoon where hard work was the dominant theme from both sides.
Kerry had justifiable reason to be irritated by Eddie Kinsella's take on first-half events when the free count was 10-1 in Donegal's favour. However, it swung Kerry's way, 14-7, in the second half.
What they said:
Eamonn Fitzmaurice (Kerry manager):
"We felt goals were going to be important today because the game was always going to be very tight. We felt Donegal, if they didn't get goals, would probably struggle to score enough and if we could get goals it would be a big factor so thankfully we got them."
Jim McGuinness (Donegal manager):
"When Kerry got their second goal, they started to make really good decisions on the ball. Our intensity wasn't there; our tackling wasn't there. A lot of things weren't there."
Donegal 8 (3 first half) Kerry 13 (5)
Donegal 17 (10 first half)
Kerry 15 (1)
Donegal 0 Kerry 1 (J Buckley 72)
Donegal: 3 (N Gallagher 35+1, D Walsh 63, M Murphy 70). Kerry: 4 (S O'Brien 22, A Maher 35+1, M Geaney 63, BJ Keane 72).
Kerry celebrate their 37th All-Ireland success, while Donegal are left wondering what might have happened if they hadn't handed Kerry their second goal.
The players knew. They always do. These Kerry boys were fired by a fierce pride in the place they came from, and the group they belonged to. The name Kerry and the date 2014 was engraved on the shiny silver base of the Sam Maguire ever before a ball was kicked.
I have always said that in Gaelic football we get various trends in style, more accurately described as 'fads', that come and go but never seriously undermine the basic fabric of the game. Yesterday, we got the perfect example of that.