The resurgence of Port Adelaide has not been astonishing when you really think about it.
The talent was there, they hired a great fitness coach in Darren Burgess and a senior coach in Ken Hinkley who has that sense of compassion that the likes of Leon Cameron, Rodney Eade and Brett Ratten don’t seem to possess on the exterior. Many people have been scratching their heads and wondering why Port has become successful.
It all comes back to one man who has been pulling the strings from up above. Not God. John McCarthy.
Finishing a lowly 14th was expected from Port in 2012. The club had plenty of pieces to the puzzle, but when you don’t have a club culture where everyone is on the same page, then nothing will ever go completely right. Chad Wingard, Brad Ebert and McCarthy all made their Port Adelaide debuts in 2012. There was a sense of hope.
The ninth of September 2012 was the day that John McCarthy died. There’s been a lot said about what happened on the early morning, but that doesn’t matter now. The club was shook. Players became really distraught.
For a long time, even months after his death, there was an uncomfortable feeling at the club. So many players were depressed. Some people take death in a different way to others, and it was becoming unbearable to take.
Troy Chaplin left for Richmond through free agency. Sure, money and a better opportunity at finals would have been in his mind. But he couldn’t handle being around a depressed mob for so long. It was difficult for him, so the change was necessary.
Most nights, the players would congregate together at each other’s houses. This made the club so tight knit, and thus forged a brand new culture.
Brad Ebert, McCarthy’s best friend, just went to another level. He’d finally become an excellent player in 2012, but with the death of McCarthy affecting him so profoundly, he became the leader that they needed. He, Travis Boak and Ken Hinkley were able to steer all the players into using McCarthy’s death as a tool to create a winning culture.
Their development was rapid, as they had a complete overhaul in terms of chemistry. Talented players went onto become star players, and that development has continued this year, with the likes of Robbie Gray and Justin Westhoff.
The middle tier players all rose up one level and the depth just became so strong that there was no sense of complacency in the side. Everyone knew they had to play well each week or else someone like an Aaron Young would swoop on their spot.
Certainly, Darren Burgess has been incredible in making this an excellent running team. Additions like Jared Polec and Matt White have been master strokes. But what has really propelled this team is chemistry and a winning culture, forged by the death of one of their most beloved brothers.