Éamonn Fitzmaurice says Kerry manager Jack O'Connor would prefer to be winning league games with his newer players rather than recalling the 2022 starters too soon.

The Kingdom began their league campaign in Ballybofey with only five of the starters from last year's All-Ireland final, though four more of Sunday's XV had featured as replacements against Galway in July.

The forward line was entirely changed, though Jack Barry, named at wing-forward in last year's decider was operating in midfield. Both Cliffords were given a rest in the wake of Fossa's All-Ireland junior title victory, while Seanie O'Shea, Paul Geaney and Stephen O'Brien were all absent.

Things looked healthy for Kerry in the opening half hour, Dara Moynihan bagging a goal as they built up a 1-06 to 0-03 lead by the 30th minute mark. However, this was reduced to four by half-time, with one of Donegal's scores contentiously awarded despite the crowd - and the Kerry manager - believing it had drifted wide.

Kerry wound up losing the game at the death, with Paddy McBreaty nailing a superb winning score three minutes into injury-time.

O'Connor insisted after the game that it was unlikely that the absent A-listers would return to the side in the next month meaning Kerry will be drawing on the same pool of players for the upcoming games against Monaghan, Mayo and Armagh.

"The ideal situation that Jack would love is to be winning games with the younger players at the moment," the former All-Ireland winning manager told the RTÉ GAA podcast.

"You're in control as a manager then. And the lads that are away on their deserved sabbatical will be looking to come back.

"Whereas, when it's the other way around, if you're losing games and you're looking out the door for lads, it's a different dynamic and it's not ideal.

"I think Jack will be quite disappointed with yesterday to be honest. Obviously, it's the first weekend, no panic, etc.

"But the fact that they put themselves in a position to win the game and they didn't. That long journey home last night after a disappointing finish wouldn't be ideal."

Fitzmaurice said that the template that Jim Gavin applied in Dublin represented the ideal scenario, where a small number of players were drip-fed into the squad year on year.

"In an ideal world - and Jim Gavin and Dublin were brilliant at this in their pomp - you're slipping two or three guys together. Giving them their chance and they're playing with 12 or 13 of the established team.

"One of the teachers told me in here that Ambrose O'Donovan, who does the colour on Radio Kerry, said yesterday that all the talk was of fellas putting up their hands. Well, some of these lads will have to put their hands down by their sides straight away.

"There isn't much patience in Kerry and the cracks appear straight away. But inside the camp, there'll be no panic."

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