Pace of change in Kingdom personnel about to quicken
Crowd surge reflects support for transition, reasons Colm Keys
The last time Kerry played a league match in Killarney so early in the year was 2016 when Roscommon, fresh from promotion to Division 2 and with decent support, rolled into town on the first weekend in February.
Roscommon pulled off a shock win, watched by just 4,507 spectators.
The weather was poor which was a factor but then Killarney at that time of year hasn't always been a magnet for the locals.
When Dublin were down less than a year earlier for their last defeat before they embarked on their 36-match unbeaten run, the crowd was estimated to be around 6,000.
It clashed with an Ireland-England rugby international in Dublin but then last year's renewal in Tralee under lights on a Saturday night followed that final Six Nations game and the numbers through the turnstiles was significantly higher.
Last Sunday in Killarney was different, however. From early on you could see the blocks of seats on the main stand filling up quicker than normal. The terrace was much more populated than comparative games.
We could speculate that it was Mikey Sheehy's call to arms at the recent Allianz League launch when he challenged Kerry supporters to be more like their Mayo counterparts on future journeys to Croke Park. It's a call that has divided opinion since.
The curiosity factor was much more likely to have been behind a 10,977 attendance, however, the roll-out of so many new faces and especially David Clifford.
Rarely, if ever, has a team announcement for a first round of a league caused such ripples of excitement with the sense that a new era was being rushed in.
Many just wanted to be there to see him in action for that first time, to see his first touch, his first assist and his first score.
That's a lot of pressure on a young man just out of minor but he carried it well and showed enough glimpses to illustrate a big involvement this year.
Being in his slipstream all week and indeed all winter was the perfect buffer for Sean O'Shea to make his debut but how he acquitted himself, even for one who was impressing in Kerry training sessions and for Kenmare in last year's Kerry championship, went beyond expectation.
To promote him as free-taker above Paul Geaney in his first competitive match at this level was quite a statement.
By the game's conclusion Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice had given league exposure for the first time to eight players, Clifford, O'Shea, Cormac Coffey, Shane Murphy, Micheál Burns and substitutes Killian Spillane, Brian O Seanachain and Matthew Flaherty.
Finally, the wheels of the production line that delivered the last four All-Ireland minor titles and four successive Hogan Cups for two schools in the county are spinning fast enough for Fitzmaurice, something he has faced questions about.
Up to this graduates have been slow to emerge with just seven players who had played minor for Kerry from 2010 on - Pa Kilkenny, Jack Barry, Jack Savage, Kevin McCarthy, Brian Ó Beaglaoich, Tom O'Sullivan and Tadhg Morley - making a senior championship team in this decade.
But a new era has been ushered in quicker than perhaps anyone expected and Sunday was a good start, more for the way the team recovered from the body blows provided by those three second-half goals from Donegal.
"It was far from perfect, a lot more positives than negatives," acknowledged Paul Murphy, Kerry's best player on the day.
"A lot of guys making their first start in the league but we showed good character to pull it out, particularly after the third goal.
A debutant just four years ago Murphy has an executive feel to him now and acknowledged his younger colleagues adapted well.
"They all did well and a game like that will bring them on leaps and bounds. We started very well and, for whatever reason, we took our foot off the gas. Maybe you could put that down to the amount of debutants.
"After the initial burst at the start of the game, you could hit a bit of a wall but I thought they all did well overall, that will give them confidence.
"Our record in the league at home hasn't been too hectic, it's really important to win home games so we're happy with that."
Fitzmaurice has indicated he will rotate his team in the coming weeks because of the tightness of the schedule and the involvement of so many in the Sigerson Cup.
But beyond that even he can't be that close to knowing what a potential championship 15 might look like, such will the pace of change be.