I write this as a passionate member and make no apologies for any bias contained below. It’s simply a take on the current position of my beloved footy club as seen from my sometimes teary eyes.
It’s a question many commentators and pundits have been asking in recent years as Port’s recruiting policy has turned from recruiting experienced veterans to going to the national draft with no real explanation from the club itself. Was the Jack Watts-Tom Rockliff-Steven Motlop trade deemed a failure? I take this as a hint that it has been and that there’s been a decision made to invest in youth – strange times and strategy indeed given the considerable pressure Ken Hinkley finds himself under.
Two captains were appointed, doing away with 140 years of club tradition, much to the anger and confusion of the Power’s membership base. Many pleas from the CEO, president and the playing group to give the situation a chance have largely fallen on deaf ears with many people, myself included, as we struggle to see how Ollie Wines could have been considered on his playing form and why two captains were needed at all.
The explanation given was that being club captain in the modern game was time-consuming and demanding and that to move with the times and release some of that pressure two captains are essentially better than one. This feels like the club’s leaders have outsmarted themselves. To ignore such a longstanding tradition was always going to be poorly received, as it was. If you want to take the pressure off the captain, get a vice-captain.
Tom Jonas should be the sole captain with Hamish Hartlett and Travis Boak as vice-captains. Tom Rockliff and two younger players chosen by the group to round out the leadership group would make for a suitable apology to the fans.
Make no mistake, an apology is needed, and not just a letter from the club CEO trying to take the blame for decisions made by the coaching group. While the acknowledgment of some issues was a nice sentiment, it’s just lip-service at this stage. Actions will always speak louder than words.
Much has been talked about in relation to the drafted three – Connor Rozee, Zak Butters and Xavier Duursma – who were certainly the highlight of an otherwise pretty ordinary season along with Travis Boak being released into his proper and rightful position in the middle of the ground. Who would have thought a midfielder would play best in the midfield? The mind boggles.
It appears hitting the draft hard is Port Adelaide’s intention again this year, with the team trading Dougal Howard and pick ten for picks 12 and 18. On paper this trade is a win, but losing Howard is a blow, and Port’s recruiting staff are gambling that this extra pick will be worth losing a talented young key-position player. It’s a risky strategy, and these leaps of faith are becoming a hallmark of Hinkley’s era at Port. Making statements is fine, but making finals is better.
Selection over the past two or so years has been at times puzzling, with players being dropped while in form or being brought into the team when in poor touch in the seconds. Players like Scott Lycett, who was brought in from West Coast to be the No. 1 ruckman and was in decent form at the time but was dropped for being “slightly off”, only for Todd Goldstein to have a game for the ages and destroy young Peter Ladhams – understandably so given this was his third ever AFL game.
Earlier in the season Ladhams was selected to debut in torrential mid-winter weather, Port lost the game and Rockliff, who had also been in good form and was returning from a two-week injury layoff, collected 57 touches and was best on ground for the reserves. This shocking decision surely contributed to Port losing a home game it should have won.
Then there’s the treatment of Charlie Dixon. Dixon was dropped after one match back from a long injury layoff. He’d played for two weeks in the SANFL and was a class above, kicking bags in both games, yet after one game he was back in the Magpies team again. He played poorly there but was somehow picked again on that form to come back to the AFL, where he struggled for the majority of the rest of the year. However, earlier in the year Ollie Wines had come back with no SANFL game time from a long injury layoff, was very poor for the first three games of his season and was retained in the team.
The question is: what’s the theory behind this? What’s the plan? If the plan was to destroy big Charlie’s confidence, then job done.
In the previous year’s trade period Jared Polec was traded, citing a ‘godfather’ offer of $700,000 for four seasons to go to North Melbourne as being too rich for the club to match, only for the club to then sign Karl Amon to a big-money three-year contract this year.
Both players play the same position. Amon was actively seeking a trade back to Victoria last year and would have happily gone except for the fact no-one wanted him, while Polec’s numbers are second only to Andrew Gaff in that position. He was worth the coin.
It appears that while Amon has become a handy wingman we’ve effectively got an inferior product for the same sort of investment. To top it all off, they then drafted a winger in Duursma in the same year. The decision-making around this situation needs to be explained. It makes very little sense.
Recently the Power wouldn’t offer Sam Gray a two-year contract. He’s a goal-a-game, 20-disposal half-forward flanker who can run through the middle. That’s a player every club could use. I doubt he’s on significant money, so why didn’t we make an offer? Again, what’s going on at Port Adelaide?
On the back of the problems and the general feelings of confusion I’ve raised in this article the Power’s attendances have dropped dramatically because the club has done one thing a club should never do: alienate its supporter base. Even worse is they’ve done this while making the finals only once in five years.
This is a recipe for financial disaster, with all the noise coming out of Port Adelaide indicating that the club’s bottom line has been severely affected by the drop in crowd support. Combine this with the astronomical price of food and drinks at the stadium itself and the club’s inability to sell hope to its supporters, and the PAFC has placed itself in a precarious position.
The supporters don’t believe in the system, so they won’t spend their hard-earnt dollars to go see the club play.
I am an unashamed David Koch fan and think by and large the board and executive group are doing a good job. It’s not them I have a gripe with, although the length and lack of performance-based clauses in Hinkley’s contract is a black mark on their record. Instead my present angst is directed squarely at the coaching group, in particular Michael Voss and Ken Hinkley. Of course this could all change if Port make and win finals this year, which is entirely possible, but this doesn’t feel as much my club as it was at the start of the Hinkley era, and that’s the real problem.
We need direction and hope. We need belief in the process and the ideology behind the playing group. We need selection based on form and not favouritism. We need no politics, one captain and a game plan that is more than the oversimplified, slingshot, run-and-gun, lock-it-in style we’ve been playing for the past five years.
We need foot skills – oh God do we need foot skills. We are in the bottom four sides for disposal by foot in the competition and have been ever since Hinkley took over. Fix it!
Urgent action is required at Alberton. Respect your membership and supporter base and never believe you are bigger than the club or the fans, because without them there is no club.