Paddy McGrath of Donegal challenges for possession during Sunday's Allianz National Football League Division One game at O'Donnell Park.
Donegal went down by three points but the margin flattered them as Kerry left O'Donnell Park as worthy winners.
Fielding a young side, Donegal were further hampered with Neil McGee crying off before the start because of a tummy bug.
Kerry's ambitions to do well in the league were obvious by their team selection, and they started really well with their strong forward line giving Donegal many headaches.
Two goals from full-forward, Paul Geaney, was enough to give Kerry a deserved victory in the end.
Before 6,320, Donegal never looked like winning, but how they finished will have encouraged manager, Rory Gallagher.
Frank McGlynn was brought into replace McGee as the youthful home side were 0-4 to 0-1 behind after 15 minutes, newcomer Jack Savage striking twice.
Kerry lost Shane Enright to injury after 8 minutes, and Donegal got back in the contest thanks to a great run from Marty O’Reilly, which drew a penalty, which Michael Murphy despatched on 22 minutes with aplomb to the bottom corner.
The goal put Donegal ahead 1-2 to 0-4, but Kerry struck back immediately with Paul Geaney goaling and Donnchadh Walsh pointing. It was a measure of how good Kerry were in the opening half. They dominated the midfield and were particularly strong in attacking down the Aura side of the ground.
In the last ten minutes of the opening half, Kerry five unanswered points to one from Michael Murphy to leave it 1-11 to 1-5 at the break.
Donegal had the opening two points of the second half, Patrick McBrearty converting a free after a good run by Eoin McHugh, and Ciaran Thompson having a great effort deflected just over the crossbar.
But Kerry cancelled those with three of their own. Paul Brennan converted for Donegal but then Paul Geaney struck for a second goal on 45 minutes to have them 2-14 to 1-8 ahead.
The nine point margin was a winning one, although to Donegal's credit, they kept going to the very end. Michael Murphy and Eoin McHugh kept Donegal on the front foot and there were some great points from Darach O'Connor (2), Ciaran Thompson, McBrearty and Michael Murphy, although they never looked like getting on terms.
Jason McGee had claims for a penalty while Stephen McBrearty had an effort at goal well blocked in a frantic finish.
There will be positives to take from the result, but there are also many things to work on. Winning ball at midfield, especially from their own kick-outs, will be top of their list this week as they prepare to travel to Roscommon.
Caolan Ward, Eoghan Ban Gallagher, Martin O'Reilly, Eoin McHugh and Ciaran Thompson were to the fore while Patrick McBrearty and Michael Murphy again accounted for a big portion of the scores.
It could be a difficult league for Donegal, given the large number of young players involved. However, they will have to learn and learn quickly, as all the teams in the top flight are going all out for league success.
The encouraging thing for Donegal will be their final tally of 1-17 with nine different scorers. That total would be enough to win many matches. But they will also have to consider Kerry't tally, which could have been much greater. Donegal also landed a number of efforts in the hands of Brian Kelly, which is always disappointing.
DONEGAL: Mark Anthony McGinley; Paddy McGrath, Caolan Ward, Eoghan Ban Gallagher; Paul Brennan (0-01), Ryan McHugh (0-01); Frank McGlynn; Jason McGee, Hugh McFadden; Ciaran Thompson (0-03), Michael Langan, Martin O’Reilly (0-01); Patrick McBrearty (0-04,3f), Michael Murphy (1-03, 1-0 pen, 3f), Jamie Brennan. Subs., Eoin McHugh (0-01) for McGlynn (25); Conor Gibbons (0-01) for Langan (42); Darach O’Connor (0-02) for J Brennan (48); Eamonn Doherty for McGrath (49); Ethan O’Donnell for O’Reilly (58); Stephen McBrearty for McFadden (60)
KERRY: Brian Kelly; Jason Foley, Mark Griffin, Shane Enright; Peter Crowley, Killian Young, Tom O’Sullivan (0-01); David Moran (0-01), Tadhg Morley; Jonathan Lyne (0-01), Paul Murphy (0-01), Donnchadh Walsh (0-02); Jack Savage (0-03,1f), Paul Geaney (2-04, 0-2f), James O’Donoghue (0-03). Subs., Jack Barry (0-1) for Enright (8); Michael Geaney for Lyne (49); B J Keane for O’Donoghue (52); Brendan O’Sullivan for Murphy (58); Conor Geaney for Savage (60); Barry O’Sullivan for Walsh (66)
REFEREE: M Deegan (Laois)