The games that “mean a thing”

It’s the morning after yet another disappointing finals performance for Port Adelaide and our coach Ken Hinkley (who has now coached just 2 finals wins in the last 9 years).

Despite having “the best list he has ever had”, before finals Ken was quoted as saying “it’s a bit scary playing finals” and if there is one word to sum up the way Port played in both games, scared is probably it. They look hesitant kicking at goals, hesitant to attack the ball, hesitant to take the game on and hesitant to present and demand the ball.

Fos Williams perhaps best emphasised the Port Adelaide attitude to finals and “existing to win premierships” when he said “the other 17 (minor round games), unless we can make this one (the grand final) a certainty, don’t mean a thing!”. The clear statement was that Port is here to win flags, not to have a good minor round win-loss ratio. A point seemingly lost on President David Koch who was quoted pre-finals saying “the facts of the matter are that on a win/loss basis, Ken is the most successful coach Port Adelaide has had in the AFL era, the facts are Ken Hinkley deserves to continue as the Port Adelaide coach.”

One must wonder how Russell Ebert would have felt about that word “deserved” after he was famously sacked despite coaching the Magpies to an SANFL grand final in 1984. The club was shown to be right (even if it wasn’t handled perfectly), with Jack Cahill taking over as coach and going on to coach another 6 premierships.

There are a number of key issues that have been a hallmark of the Hinkley regime in finals that simply must be addressed, rather than brushed over as they have been in previous seasons (including Hinkley famously saying he “wouldn’t change a thing” after the disappointing 2021 prelim loss to the Western Bulldogs).

Mental Preparation. Even in his first few years as coach, the glorious rejuvenation of 2013 and 2014, Ken admitted that he had been too negative in his coaching in the big games. And little seems to have changed over the years. Ken is a coach keen to play the underdog. Always talking up the “toughness” of the competition, the stature of the opposing team, the youth of the group and the “personnel issues’ of his own club. And whilst there is a time and a place for ensuring a team isn’t complacent, that definitely isn’t the issue down at Alberton. John Cahill was legendary for his ability to make players believe in themselves, their teammates and their game plan, especially when it really counted. PAFC premiership player Tim Ginever said that he would “have every player believe they were better than his opponent even when logic and common sense says otherwise”. Perhaps it is time for Ken to pick up the phone?

The Midfield. The personnel have changed significantly but just like the loss to the Bulldogs and the last quarter of the 2020 finals loss to Richmond, the vaunted Port Adelaide midfield just didn’t turn up to play. Questions must be asked about whether it is personnel, game plan or motivation. And with Hinkley being in charge for 11 seasons now and having “reshaped the playing list” several times over that period all three of these issues fall at his feet.

Forward Connection. It has been a hallmark of the Hinkley regime that Port win the inside 50s and lose the game far too often. Whilst it may be tempting to just blame goal kicking (with the Power kicking 11.9 against Brisbane, with some bad set shot misses and some not even registering a score, followed by 1.9 in the last quarter against GWS) there is more to it than that. The forward half press game plan means that the Power forward 50 is often crowded with people making it very hard to find clean targets, and if they are there they are usually wide. This means Port either kicks to a contest (usually outnumbered) and needs to scrap for a goal, or they are kicking from a wide position, often under immense pressure. All of this adds pressure to the moment when they do get a set shot, as they know they are rare and valuable. You would think with such a forward strategy that recruiting and selecting players who can kick a goal in congestion would be a priority. Instead we find a Port forward line stacked with players there to play a negating role. Be it promising young tall Ollie Lord, who last night appeared to think he was playing full back rather than full forward as he seemed to want to spoil rather than mark, or the plethora of “pressure forwards” McEntee, Darcy Byrne-Jones and Powell-Pepper, none of whom have goal kicking records to write home about. Goal kicking rarely looks easy at Alberton.

Player Development. David Koch says “Ken has reshaped our playing list a number of times across the last decade” so where is the list at? And why have Port had so many issues developing their own talls? Perhaps it has something to do with Ken’s attitude towards giving younger players, especially tall ones that aren’t able to apply elite forward pressure an opportunity. After last night’s loss Ken was quoted as saying “We have got some really young players who are too young to play AFL. I can guarantee you that if some of the replacements were put out there, that would have been a much worse result.” Yet last time Port played GWS they had 25 year old, 205cm ruckman Sam Hayes in the ruck, and won the clearances, a stat they lost 45 to 29 last night.

Whatever the cause the results “speak for themselves” (as club CEO said upon extending the coach with the longest ever stint without a grand final appearance). Judging the club by it’s own declared standards (existing to win premierships, 3 flags in 5 years, etc. etc.) these results simply aren’t good enough.

So where does the blame for the current malaise lie? With the list managers who have assembled “the best list he has ever had”? Probably not.

With the head coach?

With the CEO and the board who appointed him?

Pre finals David Koch said “I know there is a school of thought that says we should wait to see how we’ve done in finals (the board) felt that it was better to get the decision out of the way so there’d be no distraction going into September,”

So where does this leave the board now? Warren Tredrea’s “untenable” comments about the head coach perhaps sit even more comfortably on their shoulders right now.

Fos Williams’ statement of intent rings loud in the halls of Alberton.

“Any club worth its salt will clean out its no-hopers from the doorman, to the head trainer, to the captain. Keeping no-hopers in these positions, or any other position, is the mark of the non-successful club. You’ve got to weed out people who breed an atmosphere of non-professionalism. They’re there for the bloody joke, for the social life, for the prestige. They’re not there to win!!”

I am sure Fos would have included the President, CEO and head coach if he was asked.

When Tim Ginever was asked what separated Port Adelaide from the rest his answer was “ruthlessness”.

Your move David Koch.






3 responses to “The games that “mean a thing””

  1. Tom Rigas Avatar
    Tom Rigas

    I agree with this. Eleven years is more than enough to know if a coach has the ability to bring success, and Ken hasn’t.

  2. Rebecca Aplin Avatar
    Rebecca Aplin

    Great wk! Well written and thought out.
    I look forward to following thus blog. Thank you 😊

  3. […] Once again this is not new. We spoke about it at the end of 2023 in our article “the games that mean a thing”.  […]

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