The Tralee outfit, without the injured Kieran Donaghy (quad) and Greg Horan, saw their treatment room further crowded with the departure of corner-back Colin Griffin with a knee injury early in the first period.
Somewhat understrength as a result, Stacks struggled to stamp their authority on this contest before striking for home in the final quarter.
Having shared the opening six points in a slow-burning first quarter, East Kerry then struck for two goals in the space of a minute and a half to ignite this tie.
A foot block by Ronan Shanahan to stop Jack Sherwood’s goal drive on 19 minutes saw referee Peter Lyons point to the penalty spot. Glenflesk’s Jeff O’Donoghue stepped forward and drilled the ball past Darragh O’Brien.
From the kick-out, possession was worked back into the danger area where Ronan Buckley fisted Lee O’Donoghue’s pass to the Stacks net to open a 2-3 to 0-3 lead. The Tralee outfit, as manager Stephen Stack admitted, were in a spot of bother. Their response, though, was straight from the top drawer.
In the subsequent five minutes, the 2014 champions kicked 1-4 without reply to undo East Kerry’s two green flags and, in the process, complete a remarkable overtaking movement. Pa McCarthy, Wayne Guthrie and two from the left boot of David Mannix had the gap cut to two by 25 minutes and the inside lane was theirs when Fiachna Mangan, set-up by the industrious Shane O’Callaghan, goaled on 27 minutes.
“The spirit of any team is only ever tested when you are losing and I thought our lads showed tremendous character after going from one up to six down in the space of little over a minute,” said manager Stack.
“They kicked 1-4 and that was on top of a really bad injury to Colin Griffin, which, psychologically, was a blow to us.”
Further points from Mannix and O’Callaghan sandwiched either side of a Lee O’Donoghue free and Michael Foley effort had the Tralee side 1-9 to 2-5 ahead at the break and while Mannix’s fifth minor stretched their advantage upon the restart, a second spell of East Kerry supremacy again put the favourites on the back foot.
Sub Evan Cronin, Dara Roche (free) and Jack Sherwood landed three on the bounce as the divisional outfit, now 2-8 to 1-10 in front, made the most of limited possession.
Stacks, who had top performers in O’Callaghan, Wayne Guthrie and Pa McCarthy, were not seeing their dominance reflected on the scoreboard due mostly to a lack of directness in their forward play.
Such a criticism, however, could not be fired at the team in the closing quarter as a more clinical approach produced six points without reply.
Mannix fired over the first of these six scores from the dead ball, but even more crucial was Fearghal MacNamara’s goal line clearance to deny Lee O’Donoghue on 45 minutes.
East Kerry faded thereafter and Mannix (0-3 frees) and Mangan (0-2) eased Stacks over the finishing line.
D Mannix (0-9, 0-7 frees); F Mangan (1-2); W Guthrie, S O’Callaghan (0-2 each); P McCarthy (0-1).
J O’Donoghue (1-0 pen), R Buckley (1-0 each); L O’Donoghue (0-3, 0-3 frees); J Sherwood, M Foley, D Roche (0-1 free), M McCarthy, E Cronin (0-1 each).
D O’Brien; J O’Shea, C Jordan, C Griffin; P McCarthy, F MacNamara, R Shanahan; W Guthrie, S Guthrie; F Mangan, M O’Donnell, D Bohan; D Mannix, S O’Callaghan, A Nestor.
D Bohan for S Guthrie (HT), S Carroll for M O’Donnell (44), F O’Brien for Nestor (54).
C Myers (Fossa); D Brosnan (Gneeveguilla), M Moynihan (Spa), D O’Donoghue (Spa); S Foley (Firies), C Horan (Glenflesk), M McCarthy (Spa); J Sherwood (Firies), G O’Sullivan (Listry); M Foley (Spa), J O’Donoghue (Glenflesk), S Lynch (Spa); L O’Donoghue (Glenflesk), D Roche (Glenflesk), R Buckley (Listry).
E Cronin (Spa) for O’Sullivan (HT), P De Bruin (Firies) for Foley (40 mins), M Murphy (Gneeveguilla) for Roche (44), S Courtney (Glenflesk) for Buckley (52).