Has Port Adelaide's Bubble Already Burst?
So much evaluation of Port Adelaide’s season has taken place with audience minds still captivated by the Power’s incredible 2020 campaign.
In a season defined by COVID, Port authored a mind-bending thriller, mesmerising packed Adelaide Oval crowds as Victorians watched on from amid a protracted lockdown.
Port’s heroics made for a sharp, kind of unreal contrast, compounded by their pulsating style taking place within a season where so many were wringing their hands about the overall state of the game.
There was something genuinely extraordinary about a club who hadn’t won a single final in six years suddenly laying waste to the competition, leading the ladder from go to woe and ultimately coming within a single kick of gate-crashing the Grand Final.
But while the Power’s 2021 hasn’t been a total failure, it’s one that’s still desperately waiting for some kind of spark.
Last season, Port went about its business with breakneck speed, employing the kind of end-to-end, swashbuckling football the AFL and its commercial partners could only dream about.
Within a single off-season, the Power went from being ranked 14th from a kick-to-handball ratio to suddenly leading the league, producing the game’s second most potent attack and backed by the AFL’s stingiest defence.
Last year, when Port got you on the outside, you were toast.
The Power ranked second and third for uncontested possession and metres gained differential, which resulted in a gargantuan +9.6 inside-50 edge differential that dwarfed their competitors’ numbers.
In a period of high caution both in society and on the field, Port’s game was breathtaking and nearly unbeatable.
In 2020, when Port amassed at least 160 uncontested touches, it won all 12 of its matches. When it didn’t, its record was just 3-4, and it’s precisely in this realm where the better teams have raised their eyebrows and put so much planning into taking away what Port does best.
Within one season, the Power have gone from that other-worldly inside-50 team to one now actually posting a negative differential in that category, and whose brilliant +19.6 uncontested number has dropped to just +7.4this year.
There’s a reason Port has lost all four of its encounters against top-four teams this year, and it pertains to better opponents violently snatching away what it does best and challenging it to devise an alternative. And to this point, the Power have been found wanting.
It's Port’s inability to both improvise and to beat the best which brings out the 'flat track bully' brigade, yet it’s also a genuine reason its 2021 premiership credentials are teetering on the edge.
Behind the scenes, Port has cultivated a brilliant playing list that is chock-full of both established and emerging talent, the likes of which routinely blows away inferior teams.
The problem for Port is that its Plan A was such fun and worked so well last year that it never needed to develop a Plan B. It clearly does now, and this constitutes Ken Hinkley’s greatest test as coach.
While any calls for his head are obscene and ludicrous, they’re nothing if not highly predictable from an industry obsessed with coaching turmoil and intrigue.
Hinkley has repeatedly proven his worth at Alberton, first taking over a team that had won just eight games in total over the two seasons prior to his arrival, yet had the Power playing finals in his first season at the helm. Twelve months later he had them within three points of a Grand Final berth.
And his most recent efforts have been just as impressive, helping to overhaul the club’s list and game style and returning the club to genuine premiership contention.
In this ultimate 'what have you done for me lately' climate, Hinkley’s third act will need to see him find another way to deploy and organise the immense talent he has at his disposal.
In an era where premierships are increasingly being won by smart, adaptable teams, and where coaches are having more of an impact than ever before, Hinkley has the opportunity to prove himself as one of the game’s very best, and to solidify his place as a legend of this famous club.
* This article first appeared on Rohan Connolly's FOOTYOLOGY website
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