Port Adelaide has long been viewed as the poorer, younger brother to the corporate powerhouse that is the Adelaide Football Club, both in terms of on-field success, crowd numbers and financial backing.
Port Adelaide had a fairly successful beginning to its AFL license, competing in finals for five consecutive years and winning two pre-season premierships. The Power’s success under Mark Williams finally culminated in them capturing their first AFL premiership in 2004.
In 2005, the Power suffered from a mighty premiership hangover, not managing to capitalise on their form from the previous season, barely scraping into the final eight. Hope was not lost, however, and in a great moment for South Australian football, Port faced Adelaide in their first finals meeting. It was marketed as the ‘Ultimate Showdown’, and football fever was high-pitched within the state.
However, this match was the beginning of the end for what had been a successful introduction into the AFL – Port lost to Adelaide by 83 points.
Despite making a Grand Final appearance in 2007, only to be belted by a record 119 points by Geelong, the good start had come to an end.
There has been constant speculation about the passion of the players and the capacity of the club to remain financially viable despite financial packages from the AFL. The horrible but perhaps financially-necessary decision to place tarps with advertising logos around a near-empty AAMI Stadium has made Port Adelaide the butt of many jokes, both in South Australia and around the country.
Port Adelaide’s ability to defeat contenders one week but go missing the next became a malaise that ripped through the club. Dominic Cassisi became Port Adelaide captain in 2009, a controversial decision, as he was not the choice of the coach, but rather was appointed by the board. It could be argued that this board level interference was a symptom of the illness infecting Port Adelaide, and the unhappiness transferred through to the coach and the players.
In October of that year, Port Adelaide lost Shaun Burgoyne to the powerhouse Hawthorn in a disastrous four-way trade. 2010 saw retirements of Warren Tredrea and Josh Carr, while Chad Cornes and Daniel Motlop were sent to the SANFL for repeated stints on the sideline, which was a perplexing decision when the one thing Cornes would always bring to a game was intensity and total commitment to a competition.
The struggle continued off field with Mark Williams being forced to resign as coach, leaving Port Adelaide without anyone at the helm and a hefty contract to pay out.
Despite speculation that Port Adelaide would seek fresh blood from outside the nepotism that had both led their club to success but also cut them off from fresh ideas and influences, Port Adelaide made the mistake of appointing Matthew Primus, former player and captain, and assistant coach to Mark Williams for five years.
While Primus introduced new talent and was arguably hamstrung by a miniscule budget that kept their coaching department to a minimum, the death knell for his coaching career was the flawed focus upon uncontested football and poor efforts by players which led to a stunning defeat by the new kids on the block, Greater Western Sydney. To add insult to injury, two players forced into retirement by Port Adelaide in Chad Cornes and Dean Brogan played for the opposition.
After a disastrous effort to hire a new coach for a job that the media speculated no-one wanted, for the first time in Port Adelaide’s history, it appointed a coach from outside the club in Ken Hinkley. A two-time All Australian, winner of Geelong’s best and fairest and with a successful assisting coaching pedigree at Geelong from 2004 until 2009, Hinkley comes from a culture of success.
At his side, he’ll have Alan Richardson as director of coaching strategy (two years at Collingwood, two years at Essendon), and the return of Darren Burgess to their fitness department (he spent two years as high performance manager at Liverpool FC).
Change continues down into the playing list as a number of players were shown both sides of the door. Danyle Pearce and David Rodan both faced being delisted while Campbell Heath, Lewis Stevenson, Jake Neade, Jack Hombsch and Angus Monfries entered the fray.
With picks 7, 30 and 31 in the National Draft, the Power can add some much-needed talent.
For one of the South Australian teams, the sun is finally streaming through the clouds that have oppressed them for the past several years, while salary cap controversy and implications of draft tampering are leaving Adelaide in the shade.
Port Adelaide is on the cusp of a new era; it has a chairman in David Koch, who is a passionate Port Adelaide supporter and long-time number one ticket holder, who has both the skills and the media profile to lift Port Adelaide’s standing in the wider community.
The Power have also received a favourable draw, playing two of the top eight teams from 2012 twice. They will also benefit from home games in their final year at AAMI Stadium against marquee teams that draw typically large interstate crowds in Collingwood, Hawthorn and Carlton.
With the controversy currently shrouding their cross-town rival in Adelaide, Port Adelaide is well-positioned to lure new corporate sponsors to a club, just in time for the beginning of the new season and their shift to Adelaide Oval in 2014.