Moran the master as Kerry at last draw first blood
Kerry 2-17 Donegal 1-17
Sometimes the withdrawal of certain players can send out the wrong signal.
When James O'Donoghue, who had pulled the Donegal defence apart for most of the 53 minutes he had played, was hauled ashore, Kerry were leading this encounter in Letterkenny by 10 points.
When Paul Murphy, the architect of so much from centre-forward, followed him four minutes later they were nine points clear. Jack Savage's departure on 60 minutes saw the visitors still comfortably ahead by eight points.
But from Savage's 57th minute conversion of a free to the end they didn't score again, their 2-17 total enough to earn Eamonn Fitzmaurice his first opening-round league win as Kerry manager.
After losses to Dublin and Mayo (twice each) over the last four years Fitzmaurice will be pleased with the result but much more satisfied with most of the performance. For those opening three quarters they looked as sharp as they have been at this stage of the season for some time. Not so pleasing though will be the manner of the finish.
Donegal piled on the pressure hitting the last six points until, eventually, all that separated them was Paul Geaney's second goal on 44 minutes.
That was the zenith of Kerry's afternoon as a masterful David Moran's delivery to Donnchadh Walsh paved the way for Geaney (above) to slip the cover and bury a shot beneath Mark Anthony McGinley.
That opened a 2-14 to 1-8 lead and when Walsh punched an effort off the crossbar minutes later, with the lead still at nine points, it looked like the floodgates might open.
But Donegal, to their credit, seized the invitation from Kerry to come at them. O'Donoghue, Geaney and Savage picked off 2-10 (three frees) between them. Their movement across the full-forward line had Donegal in a spin as the absence of Neil McGee, out through sickness, was really felt.
Even Paddy McGrath, who had shadowed O'Donoghue well in the early exchanges, was eventually swept away by the tide.
When Donegal manager Rory Gallagher sought a big extension to his time in charge last September it was on the premise that the period of transition may be painful. Eight established players have departed the squad since last year's championship and that's no easy void to fill.
That led to a largely inexperienced team being selected with just four of their 2012 All-Ireland final starters.
"We made a decision that we were going with a certain type of play. We have probably changed it from what we were used to from the last four years," Gallagher pointed out. "We are trying out a number of new players and there are going to be days like that. So we are trying to marry the two together.
"With the forward line Kerry named we could make a decision to camp in our own half and try and get a result. But we have to look at the bigger picture and that is what we tried to do."
Thus the match lacked the rancour of Tralee last year with referee Maurice Deegan enjoying a comparatively gentle afternoon (just three yellow cards and one black) to what his fellow county man Eddie Kinsella had to deal with.
Kerry started well and led by 0-4 to 0-2 as they overcame the withdrawal of Shane Enright with a bad head injury, requiring hospitalisation, after a fourth-minute collision with Michael Murphy that required a five-minute delay to remove him on a stretcher.
But a scorching run from Marty O'Reilly on 22 minutes caught the Kerry defence off guard and Moran pushed him as he was shooting for goal, giving Murphy a penalty opportunity that he accepted gratefully.
The response from Kerry was swift, however, with Enright's replacement, Jack Barry, putting in Geaney after good approach work from O'Donoghue for Kerry's first goal. It was their cue to kick on and by the break they were 1-11 to 1-5 clear, every one of their 12 scores coming from play.
Barry, who was black-carded late on for dragging down Murphy, was impressive but his midfield partner Moran ran the show, putting sufficient pressure on the Donegal kick-out as they lost 11 from 17 in the opening half and spraying the ball around with some wonderful kick-passing. Donegal used Murphy in a deeper position in the second half to try and curb his influence.
Another newcomer Tom O'Sullivan gave further notice at half-back of the big future he is likely to have.
O'Donoghue's form at this stage of the season is really significant for Kerry given how he has missed the last two league campaigns.
Fitzmaurice acknowledged the sharpness of his team so early in the season in comparison to other years.
"We played a lot of good football, a lot of good scores, and definitely have to work on the last quarter.
"Other years there was mitigating circumstances with big team holidays and very little training done. This year, we've a bit of training done and more bodies available to us and that leads to better performances."
For Donegal the campaign already looks focused on survival but their spirited response to a 10-point deficit augurs well.
Eoin McHugh brought spark, Ryan McHugh and Murphy finished well, while Ciaran Thompson showed plenty of pace to clip over three good points.
"This league will be a huge learning curve," said Gallagher. "And we have got to be united and keep digging when things aren't going well on the pitch."
Scorers - Kerry: P Geaney (0-2fs) 2-4; J O'Donoghue, J Savage (1f) 0-3 each; D Walsh 0-2; J Barry, P Murphy, T O'Sullivan, J Lyne, D Moran 0-1 each. Donegal: M Murphy (1-0 pen, 0-3fs) 1-3; P McBrearty (3fs) 0-4; C Thompson 0-3; D O'Connor 0-2; R McHugh, P Brennan, M O'Reilly, E McHugh, C Gibbons all 0-1 each.
Kerry - B Kelly 7; J Foley 7, M Griffin 6, S Enright; P Crowley 6, K Young 7, T O'Sullivan 7; D Moran 9, T Morley 6; J Lyne 6, P Murphy 8, D Walsh 7; J Savage 7, P Geaney 8, J O'Donoghue 8. Subs: J Barry 7 for Enright inj (8), M Geaney 5 for Lyne (48), BJ Keane 5 for O'Donoghue (53), Brendan O'Sullivan 5 for Murphy (57), C Geaney for Savage (60), Barry O'Sullivan for Walsh (66). Barry BC (73).
Donegal - MA McGinley 6; P McGrath 6, C Ward 6, E 'Ban' Gallagher 6; F McGlynn 5, R McHugh 6, P Brennan 6; H McFadden 6, J McGee 6; M O'Reilly 8, M Langan 5, C Thompson 8; P McBrearty 6, M Murphy 7, J Brennan 5. Subs: E McHugh 7 for McGlynn (26), C Gibbons 6 for Langan (39), D O'Connor 6 for J Brennan (47), E Doherty 5 for McGrath inj (49), E O'Donnell 5 for O'Reilly inj (57), S McBrearty for McFadden (60).
Ref - M Deegan(Laois).
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