Port Adelaide are not playing finals football in 2019. The Power have missed the finals in four of the past five seasons and not managed to win a final since 2014.
Half a decade without a finals victory and it’s easy to see why there is a lot of unrest in the fan base.
If Brisbane and Essendon execute a September victory this year, then 14 teams will have recorded a finals win since Port last achieved this feat.
Conversing with club members and scrolling through social media, you examine a wide range of emotions and opinions from the faithful on what has gone wrong.
Players, coaches, recruitment, skills, game plan, team selection, financial sponsorship, management, the foray into China. You name it – it’s under the spotlight.
Regrettably, some of this passionate debate has seen some fans turn on each other. So much for never tear us apart.
Challenge or rebuild
Opposition fans may have their own observations on what has transpired in the last five years at Alberton, but a significant turnover of players and assistant coaches has not translated to any meaningful success or a sustainable spike in performance.
At the end of 2017, Jack Watts, Steven Motlop and Tom Rockliff arrived at Alberton and some pundits believed Port had the foundations to seriously challenge for a premiership.
This did not go according to plan and a year later Chad Wingard and Jared Polec departed with the narrative that a rebuild or list refresh was required.
New draftees Connor Rozee, Zak Butters and Xavier Duursma had an instant impact in 2019 but this also helped perpetuate the myth the Power were fielding a team of kids on a weekly basis.
Coach Ken Hinkley has taken the brunt of the fan anger. He has been the one constant along with his right-hand man Michael Voss, CEO Keith Thomas and president David Koch overseeing five years of mid-table mediocrity.
The contract extension for Hinkley at the end of 2017 continues to look more perplexing as time goes by. On the back of missing finals two out of the previous three years, the coach was rewarded with a new deal despite being contracted in 2018.
When performance is not the most important KPI for a coach it sets a very dangerous precedent.
Historically Port Adelaide have been a high-achieving club. As the club constantly reminds its own members and anyone else who will listen, we exist to win premierships.
Supporters want to see a plan, direction, improvement and they need hope. Winning a premiership every year is not pragmatic and making finals is not always realistic.
This is something Port fans have become comfortable with in recent times. No finals in seven of the last ten years is a poor return for any team that has standards.
A small percentage of fans can be guilty of completely overrating the team they support but it’s important to cite that it was the football club and not the members that set the benchmark of finals as the pass mark in 2019.
David Koch publicly declared this on multiple occasions.
“Our pass or fail mark that we set ourselves is making the finals,” he told The Age in July. “We’ve got to deliver that.”
The Sunrise host divides public opinion and is outspoken on occasion. In this instance, however, the exact same sentiments were echoed by Hinkley, assistant coaches, board members and the players.
The Port Adelaide community is proud of previous successes but make no mistake about it, they are acutely aware they are in the AFL and no longer the big fish in the SANFL pond.
The results over the last five years and the majority of the last decade are poor results regardless of the competition.
The media coverage on Port Adelaide has been fascinating all year. Select few like Warren Tredrea, Paul Roos and David King have condemned game style and player output when warranted.
Other media have been more friendly. Ken Hinkley was a regular guest on AFL 360 with Mark Robinson and Gerard Whateley throughout the year.
Even after poor performances, the senior coach escaped scrutiny with most segments presented like a BBQ with Uncle Kenny.
More of the same for Ken on his regular SEN appearances with Kane Cornes. Cornes is a critical pundit, but he refuses to blame the coach. The blowtorch is typically reserved for the players and other areas such as list management.
Port Adelaide is very aware of current member dissatisfaction. 2019 membership numbers and home crowd attendances heading south.
CEO Keith Thomas wrote an open letter to members last month and again this week on radio tried to shift some of the blame.
“We had a drop off in membership this year,” he told SEN. “That’s significant for us. That hurts. I think that is a result of frustration. One of the reasons I wrote the note that I wrote was to start to broaden the conversation (outside of Ken Hinkley).”
The announcement of co-captains Ollie Wines and Tom Jonas got many members offside very early in the year, breaking away from the club tradition of having one skipper.
At the members convention on the eve of the season, the message was loud and clear: “We are going to play an exciting and attacking brand of football.”
This is the kind of statement that will get a loud cheer from the room, but when you reflect at the end of the season and look at all the statistical evidence, it simply didn’t occur on a regular basis.
The 2020 campaign is a significant one for Port Adelaide, who will be celebrating their 150th anniversary.
The die-hard fans will continue to pour money into membership, merchandise, corporate events and so on.
Disenchanted fans are the ones that need to be won back and whose support and financial contributions are still required if you are to believe some of the discussion around the club’s financial position.
So what now? There must be accountability for the last five years that goes beyond token player list changes, cliches and good news stories from the club website.
A complete independent review is a necessity. Many Port fans have lost faith in the decisions made by the current administration so an external audit of all football operations would be a good starting point to appease fears that 2020 is not going to follow an all too familiar script. That also means actually acting on some of the findings.
The CEO and all major Port Adelaide stakeholders have a massive task ahead in changing the current trajectory and generating trust, belief and unity amongst the fans before next season.