History? More like Richmond in the making at Port
Justin Westhoff lays a tackle (Slattery Images)
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14,583. It wasn’t the lowest crowd of Round 18, but it should be the most concerning. Not for the AFL, but for Matthew Primus and his coaching staff.
Sunday’s loss to Fremantle at AAMI Stadium was a low point for the season for Port Adelaide, a club that is rapidly losing its Port Adelaide-ness.
The Alberton faithful are voting with their feet. They don’t want to be the next Richmond.
Not to denigrate those of the Punt Road persuasion, but the Tigers are what they are – a great club stuck in a downward spiral of mediocrity. They have been for as long as I can remember.
But as they slowly rise, the Power seem determined to take their place.
Ignore the 27-point deficit on Sunday. The scoreboard flattered the hosts. The Dockers clearly took their foot off the pedal after half time and allowed a confused Port side to whittle away a 48-point edge in the final term.
But it wasn’t the result that angered the locals. It was the way they played. Port Adelaide had already surrendered the match before the first bounce.
Accepting that Ross Lyon’s Fremantle are a defensive side, they went in thinking the only way to win was to hold onto the ball and use short, precise kicks to get into an attacking position.
‘Fish and chips football’, as some call it. In practice, Port were too scared to even attempt to win the game.
After the match, Primus compared it to Hawthorn’s style under former Power assistant Alastair Clarkson.
But Port is a side ranked 16 in the AFL for kicking efficiency and 17 for marks inside 50, at a time when arguably the best four teams in the league – Sydney, Hawthorn, Collingwood, West Coast – are one, two, three and four for long kicks.
Port Adelaide, as it happens, are 17th in that department. To sum it up, they are no Hawthorn.
Combine that with a side infamous for its ability to crumble under the slightest of pressure – which is what Ross Lyon’s sides bring in spades – and Sunday is what you get.
The numbers reveal that this style, far beyond the low-skilled, slow-moving Power, played right into the hands of the Dockers.
Just 12 inside-50s in the first half. A score of nine points, in total, at the main break. Turnovers accounted for the majority of the opposition’s score for the afternoon – 7.6 of 11.9, to be exact.
And, to top it off, the most damning statistic of them all – skipper Domenic Cassisi’s contribution of 12 first-half disposals gave his side a net metres gained of -44.
That is what you get when you try to push square pegs through round holes.
Port Adelaide supporters are not dumb. Despite their unfortunate description as the Collingwood of South Australia, they understand football and they know what they see.
Their club is where it is today – the only ‘real’ footy club outside of Victoria to join the AFL – because of 142 years of brilliance, grit, intelligence and an ingrained determination to be the best there is, however possible.
This is the club of Williams, Cahill, Ebert, Hodges, Fiacchi and Grave Danger.
Football has of course advanced well past their time, in many and varied ways, but the essence of what makes a good football club has not changed.
To submit defeat before a game – to concede that your club is so unlikely to beat a side like Fremantle on your own patch of turf, that electing to play a style well beyond your modest list, and then blaming them for poor execution when it inevitably fails, is a better alternative to at least attempting to dictate terms – is not part of that recipe.
That is not only weak and insipid but silly, and to disguise a self-defeating tactical approach as a ‘learning process’ is worse.
So Primus should take very seriously the howls of disgust that echoed around AAMI Stadium during and after the game.
Any fan will accept the odd miserable performance, or even a below-average season or two, if it’s all part of a larger plan.
But the majority of Power supporters are struggling to believe there is one. And crowds are dwindling to near-record low levels as a direct result.
This club is meant to be rebuilding. But can anybody really envision a time when this group of players, under this coaching staff, will produce a brand of football good enough to beat teams like Hawthorn, Sydney, Collingwood and Geelong?
These sides have systems and methods for sustained excellence. While the AFL cycle has effectively made swings and roundabouts compulsory, these clubs will almost certainly bounce back up when they bottom out.
If Port Adelaide continues to ignore what is obvious to all but those in the employ of the club, then they are embracing a Richmond-like fate, with no light at the end of the tunnel.
Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard that is the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. He is a Port Adelaide fan by birth, as painful as that has been recently. He's now sports editor of The Area News in Griffith, NSW.
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