Primus the fall guy for a Powerless board
Port Adelaide coach Matthew Primus (Slattery Images)
No Port Adelaide fan will ever forget that famous splash of a bare-chested Jonathan Giles and Matthew Primus on the front page of The Advertiser in December 2005.
“Power’s mission to turn scrawn into brawn,” read the headline above an unflattering snap of a pale, rake-thin Giles next to a picture of a bronzed, hulking Primus at his physical peak.
Giles, all 17 years and 84kg of him, had just been drafted by the Power – but in 2009 he was delisted without playing a single senior game.
Who could have predicted that, nearly seven years on from that infamous front-page spread, these two men have effectively traded places.
A bulked-up Giles now has the opportunity to lead the ruck division for a Greater Western Sydney side that will almost certainly become a force to be reckoned with in a few years time.
He had 23 touches, 26 hit-outs and kicked two goals on Saturday – best on ground in the game that killed Matthew Primus’ coaching career.
Indeed, Giles and Primus now represent the consequences of a Port Adelaide that, since the 2004 flag, has made all the wrong decisions because they were too scared to make the hard ones.
The former is missed opportunity personified.
Endless recruiting gaffes, a dysfunctional administration and a toxic mentality that permeates the playing group have meant that whenever Port lucked themselves into drafting an excellent prospect, they never become what they could be because of injury or infrastructure.
On the other hand, Primus is a club legend that has been so gracelessly ‘shat on’, in the esteemed words of Warren Tredrea, because Port Adelaide has been blocking its ears and wishing its problems away.
It seems patently unfair that in the opposite coaching box at Skoda Stadium sat the very man who decided Giles was not good enough for the Power. Not only was he now reaping the rewards, the man who once oversaw the rot at Alberton was plotting his former club’s worst ever loss.
But let’s get one thing straight – the lionhearted, likable Primus was never the right man for this particular job. There are too many examples over the past two years that his message was not getting through.
Consider the Chad Cornes debacle, or the general lack of progress this team has made, both tactically and developmentally.
After they fell so shamefully to GWS, Primus simply had to go. As Giles learned the embarrassing way through getting his picture in the paper, perception is everything. This is modern sport.
But this is a mess of the club’s own making.
The same fans who are now militant in their demand for change were calling for someone from outside of Port Adelaide way back in mid-2010, when the club went through with a messy divorce with Mark Williams merely 12 months after re-signing him.
Outgoing chairman Brett Duncanson, who was reduced to a bawling mess when announcing his own overdue resignation from the club he grew up following on Monday, must wear the majority of the heat.
Williams should never have been re-appointed – and because he was, the board cost the debt-ridden club an amount per month that was said to be greater than Primus’ wages.
We’ll never know where Primus could have taken Port Adelaide, because he never had the right support network around him. Nor could he repair a shattered, clique-driven club culture. The board is culpable for both.
So broken are certain parts of Alberton that had Chris Scott been appointed to the post instead of Primus, there’s every chance it would have been him getting knifed yesterday.
As for the playing group itself, which has approached its football like Billy Brownless approaches the annual EJ Whitten Legends Game, there are only so many lines in the sand you can draw until your beach becomes a canyon.
Their hands are stained with the blood of two coaches.
Now the future of the club rests on the shoulders of a man who, exactly like Primus, comes from Norwood and Fitzroy stock – chief executive Keith Thomas, who assumed control of Monday’s press conference from an emotionally overwhelmed Duncanson, just like he has taken over the operation and direction of the club.
One of the callers to Adelaide radio station FiveAA after the Giants loss called for a ‘great big enema’ from board level right down to the gear stewards.
Little did we know that it had already been administered. Primus and Duncanson are gone, and more will follow thanks to Thomas’ secret review. The review began at the start of the year and he says it is steered by seven AFL luminaries who do not want to be named.
It is just so unfortunate that this has come so late and cost so much, in so many ways.
It is up to the ‘outsider’ Thomas now to silence the predictable howls that say this proud club should change its name or be replaced by another side from SA, as if some mythical market exists for a third team that isn’t the Crows and isn’t Port either.
His first moves have been perfect – but in his words, Port Adelaide cannot get anything wrong from here if they wish to become a footballing Power once again. Here’s hoping.
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.