Casey late hero as Mullins sees red on debut
Kerry 2-18 Donegal 3-14
Nathan Mullins' Donegal league debut lasted just 19 minutes as he was red-carded for an off the ball incident on an afternoon when Kerry's youthful revolution got off to a winning but tentative start.
Mullins was dismissed after tangling with Kerry midfielder Brendan O'Sullivan. The St Vincent's man had started well but allowed his frustration to boil over as the game became more fractious and will now miss next Sunday's second-round game against Galway in Letterkenny (2.30).
In all, there were three red cards - Kerry's Gavin Crowley and Donegal goalscorer Tony McClenaghan went for double yellows near the end and nine yellow cards (seven for Donegal) but the entertainment value was high with 37 scores erasing any ill-tempered feeling between them.
éamonn Fitzmaurice gave league debuts to eight players, including last year's minor star David Clifford.
Clifford made a satisfactory debut, scoring a free and assisting in moves that led to 1-3, but it was another rising star, Seán O'Shea, who caught the eye with seven points, four from frees.
O'Shea, an All-Ireland minor winner in 2015 and 2016, had his three points from play scored by the 15th minute and when Mullins was sent off Kerry were already 1-5 to 0-4 ahead.
But they didn't maximise their numerical advantage as a defiant Donegal dug in and thrived at times in the second half when they hit the front on three different occasions before they were reeled in by late scores from O'Shea from a 45-metre free and substitute Daithi Casey, back in league action for the first time in almost three years.
Donegal scored three second-half goals and the last of those, from substitute Darach O'Connor, looked like it would secure a first league win away to Kerry for 30 years.
Kerry won't be happy with their defending but Fitzmaurice acknowledged that such exposure goes with the territory of playing so many newcomers and trying out different systems.
"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 figured.
"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."
Donegal manager Declan Bonner admitted he didn't see the Mullins' incident. "Somebody said that he left the foot in and if he did, that's a red card."
Their response, in front of an attendance of almost 11000, was impressive and bodes well for the rest of the campaign, however.
"Coming down to Killarney to play Kerry anyway is tough, they have some brilliant talent coming through and I would know a lot of them from 2014 minor final, five or six of them were on the field today and we had the same number on the park," recalled Bonner.
"But in terms of Gaelic football, it was a proper match, no doubt about it. Someone said it was a moral victory but at the end of the day, moral victories don't get you two points. That's the reality."
SCORERS - Kerry: S O'Shea 0-7 (4f), P Geaney 1-2 (0-1 pen), S O'Brien 1-1, BJ Keane 0-2, R Shanahan, G Crowley, K Spillane, D Clifford (f), D Casey 0-1 each. Donegal: P McBrearty 0-10 (8f), O MacNiallais 1-2, D O'Connor, T McClenaghan 1-0 each, S McBrearty, J Brennan 0-1 each.
KERRY: S Murphy; C Coffey, J Foley, S Enright; P Murphy, G Crowley, R Shanahan; Barry O'Sullivan, Brendan O'Sullivan; M Burns, S O Shea, S O'Brien; D Clifford, P Geaney, BJ Keane. Subs: J Savage for Clifford (48), James O'Donoghue for Keane (48), D Casey for Barry O'Sullivan (55), K Spillane for O'Donoghue inj (55), B O Seanachain for Burns (68)
DONEGAL: MA McGinley; S McMenamin, E Ban Gallagher, C Ward; R McHugh, L McLoone, T McClenaghan; H McFadden, N Mullins; M O'Reilly, P Brennan, C McGonigle; P McBrearty, O MacNiallais, J Brennan. Subs: P Boyle for McGinley inj (17), N O'Donnell for J Brennan (ht), S McBrearty for O'Reilly (46), C Thompson for McGonigle (45), J McGee for McLoone (66), D O'Connor for McGee (70).
REF: P Neilan (Roscommon).