Port Adelaide can win a premiership by 2016. It’s a huge call, especially given they were labelled a “basket case” last year by many media critics and fans alike. They were shot financially, an embarrassment on and off the field. What those critics didn’t take into account was how one off-season of drafting and recruiting could change the entire club.

Ken Hinkley has walked into the club and has reshaped things so Port Adelaide is no longer easy beats, embarrassing or indeed, a ‘basket case’. The club brought in players it believed could help rebuild for the future, while also providing immediate impact. Everyone loves a good bargain and Port Adelaide found players that were in the clearance box, rejected or not having the desired impact at their current clubs. They snatched Angus Monfries from Essendon who was their biggest signing, Jack Hombsch from GWS, Campbell Heath from Sydney, Lewis Stevenson from West Coast and Jake Neade via a trade through pre-listing.

All these players have shown glimpses of what they can bring to the table under Hinkley’s leadership and what he’s willing to do in order to stamp his message through the playing group. Stalwarts such as former captain Domenic Cassisi have been forced to earn a spot through the SANFL and not automatically replacing youth. But unlike Matthew Primus before him, he doesn’t exclusively pick a side on ‘potential’.

‘Potential’ is a dirty word. It describes a level of output that is estimated by the club, media and fans that a particular player could reach by a certain period of time during their career. It doesn’t mean they will, but some people live off the hope that players will transform into beasts that will win games off their own boot. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just happen. But enough digressing, back to Port.

Port Adelaide could win a premiership by 2016 with the players’ natural progression. Picture a midfield of Chad Wingard, Hamish Hartlett, Travis Boak and Ollie Wines when they are fully built and injury free. Sure Boak is starting to hit the peak of his career, but the others are still young with plenty of, dare it be said, ‘potential’.

Justin Westhoff, although his form has dropped off, has been very un-Westhoff like this year. Of course by that I mean he has actually been impressive. For many years, Westhoff has been a whipping boy of sorts, not only for Port fans, but for fans across the league. When Port was on its five game winning streak, he was the dominant key forward/utility in the competition.

You’re probably saying ‘this is all well and good’ but where on earth did you come up with the absurd suggestion Port can win a flag in three years?’ Well one needs to remember a side just over a decade ago who were in a similar position, Collingwood in 2000.

At the end of the 1999 season Collingwood had won the wooden spoon for only the second time in the clubs history and sacked its coach. Tony Shaw was a stalwart of the club and games record holder but couldn’t coach to save himself. A perfect example of where playing leadership doesn’t naturally progress to coaching ability. Fast-forward 13 years and what’s this? Port sack a club stalwart who naturally progressed to coaching, unsuccessfully.

Collingwood hired Mick Malthouse to lead them into a new era. He promised change and to drive the brand of Collingwood so it would become a superpower. It was hard to believe given Collingwood was financially in trouble and their on-field performances were disgraceful. He also said that the Pies needed to show progress on the field rather than just talking about it. They picked up Josh Fraser, Rhyce Shaw, Leon Davis, Ben Johnson and Shane O’Bree during the off-season. Within three years those players would play in a Grand Final.

Could Port’s crop of Ollie Wines, Tom Clurey, Mason Shaw, Sam Colquhoun, Jake Neade and Angus Monfries be named in the 2016 Grand Final side? It’s not beyond the realms of possibility. But the comparisons don’t stop there.

Collingwood came out in a blaze of glory in the 2000 premiership season, winning the first five matches and looking like they were about to explode. Hardly anyone could believe the side that was incapable of beating anyone twelve months earlier was able to rack up the wins. They went on to win a total of two more matches for the rest of the season. It was a harsh reality of where they were at, but it set the tone for what they were capable of.

Port Adelaide won its first five games of this year too. Unlike Collingwood of 2000, they have already won another two to match them on seven wins. One wouldn’t expect they’d get many more with a tough draw, but after defeating Sydney, one of the competition’s benchmarks; anything is possible.

It isn’t season 2013 where Port will make its mark. With another top ten pick in this year’s draft and a good off-season, Port can firmly plant the seeds of success for the coming years. After all, within three years, Collingwood made a Grand Final and came within nine points of stopping a dynasty from forming. While they weren’t successful, the Pies showed how quickly a team can turn its fortunes around on the back of a good off-season.

Full credit needs to go to Ken Hinkley and the group of development coaches, recruiters and assistant coaches who have busted a gut to reshape the football club. While the club has been far from consistent and opposition clubs are happy to dig the boots in after the five consecutive losses, Port have now steadied with another two wins and the critics have gone quiet.

Port Adelaide is a sleeping giant. While everyone will have their attention rightly focused on the expansion clubs over the next decade, don’t be surprised if,¬†on the back of some fantastic recruiting and strong leadership, Port Adelaide can win a premiership over the next few years.