AFL Round 5 – Port Adelaide v West Coast: Being Ken Hinkley

By Rob Bath

I’ll be in the coaches’ box during this match, looking over Ken Hinkley’s shoulder. Well not really, just pretending, but I’m trying to get inside the head of footy’s unlikely Man of the Moment.

Five minutes to the bounce. At least they still bounce it at the beginning of a game. Soon they won’t even bother to throw it up, and we’ll have the ‘tip-off’ to go with ‘turnovers’ and ‘junk time’ and all the other American crap.

I’m getting off track. Stop me if I do that again.

Ken Hinkley seems unflappable, avuncular, undemonstrative and wise; an experienced bloke from the older end of Generation X, guiding and mentoring a bunch of Gen.Ys from a broken footy home. But just now, that calm exterior must be hiding a seething mass of emotions.

Kenny must know this game is the big one. Pre-season matches mean little; Melbourne, GWS and the Suns don’t count for much; and the Crowdowns are always a bit offbeat. But go 5-0 by knocking off top-four contenders West Coast and it will be official – Port Adelaide will be the Real Deal and their new coach will join the ranks of tonight’s counterpart Woosha, Paul Roos and others who rose unexpectedly from the sidelines to the upper echelons. He would probably say that simply being competitive tonight – never giving up! – is all he demands. But, boy, wouldn’t a win look great on the CV?

Did I just say “Real Deal”? You were supposed to stop me.

OK, there’s the bounce. Nothing much for the coaches to do in the scoreless arm-wrestle of the first few minutes, but I fancy I see a slight frown playing around Ken’s brow: the ball is spending too much time in the wrong half. OK for now, business as usual, but something needs to change soon.

Oh, nice tackle, Monfries! And Priddis has sadly face-butted the turf. Hinkley has been around enough to know that’s probably not a bonus. Interruptions always signal change; injured comrades inspire and substitutes have something to prove. This could be good – or bad. Send out the runner? No, Ken will leave it to the leadership guys to steady the boys.

It’s bad. Ten minutes later we’re scoreless, four goals down, trailing in every meaningful statistic, still can’t get out of the bloody back half and Josh Kennedy looks like a candidate for All-Australian key forward. What’s the coach doing about it? Nothing yet. Early days.

Not sure what he said at the break, but nothing much is different in the second quarter. What can you do, sitting there in the box, when play is going like this? There’s no point in ringing the changes. It’s not that the boys are doing anything specifically wrong – forgetting the drill, taking the wrong options, shirking the contest – they’re just getting beaten, by a side that, at the moment, seems to be, well, better. Or at least, more intense. The Eagles are playing the defensive game that Matthew Nicks has been hammering our boys with: give them no space. Then, when you inevitably gain possession, deliver clean ball to your forwards. They’re doing it well. Nothing to be done but contain the damage and wait for the long break. West Coast help us out a bit by missing a string of easy shots. By what mysterious alchemy does a whole team suddenly develop the yips like that? Who cares – they left the door ever so slightly open…

Half-time. Hinkley is clearly an excellent coach in terms of mentoring and developing players, building a confident, skilled squad. Really great coaches do all that, but also have the X-factor on match day itself, the ability to fly by the seat of their pants, conjure up brilliant strategies, position-plays and match-ups; delivering inspirational pep-talks and inivigorating sprays. Kenny doesn’t strike me as a ‘spray’ kind of guy, but his pep-talk during the Crows game sure seemed to work, and his move last week of Cassisi on to Ablett was a dead-set masterstroke.

So what rabbit are you going to pull out of the hat now, Ken? He must be thinking about unleashing Robbie Gray. But who does he pull off? – Nobody’s going that badly. I see him hitting the boys with the This-team-will-never-give-up line. Why not? It’s a great mantra to chant – almost certainly written by Kochie or the marketing department, but what the hell – the more you say it, the more it sounds real; and when Kennie says it, it’s really code for: Our players are young. Darren Burgess is the best fitness coach in the AFL. As long as their heads are right, those bodies can do anything in the fourth quarter. And tonight’s Eagles are just starting to tip over into the ‘old’ category… Kenny is relaxed at half-time. I think.

Some positive moves: Wingard down the ground, Westhoff – closely-checked up to now – up-ground to that non-specific location once known as the ‘wing’. Gray still fidgeting on the bench.

A flurry of goals – good! – then West Coast close it up again, extend their lead to 41 points. All there is now to hope for is that we don’t crumble, drop the bundle, as in recent years. Hinkley would settle for an ‘honourable’ loss at this point.

Somebody treads on Trengove’s foot! The yes-or-no-Robbie question is resolved by fate. A few more goals. We’re still in it – just – at the final break. Kenny don’t smile much. When he does, it’s a lovely impish grin. Maybe not just yet.

I see him saying to the boys: “There’s going to be more room to move now, for Jake, Chad, Robbie… Hamish, Trav – you gotta get the ball to them”.

Goal within thirty seconds of the last. Anybody remember that movie about Phar Lap? In the racing scenes, whenever the horse was about to make his run, the soundtrack played this spooky, electronic humming sort of music, as Big Red surged to the front and stayed there.

Can you hear that music now, Kenny? And, extending the equine metaphor, Hartlett is a thoroughbred. Inspirational leadership stuff with two goals from Boak and we’re in front. Oops! – cut the Phar Lap music. We’re down again. This isn’t according to script… Neade! Wingard – Monfries… goal!

Five points up, that famously inadequate margin, West Coast going forward… Westhoff! Right man, right place, right time! Ken, we’re there, mate – unless he does something really stupid… Transfers to Kane Cornes, holds it up… Siren!

Kenny, you da Man!

OK, sorry – Kenneth Hinkley, you are a fine coach. Of a fine team.


Port Adelaide  1.0       2.5       7.7       12.12   (84)

West Coast      4.4       7.13     9.16     10.19   (79)

goals  Port Adelaide: Wingard, Boak, Monfries, Hartlett 2; Stewart, Neade, Broadbent, Cornes.
West Coast: Kennedy 4; Cripps, Hill, Darling, Masten, Hams, Dalziell.

best    Port Adelaide: Hartlett, Wingard, Boak, Neade, O’Shea, Cornes.
West Coast: Shuey, Selwood, Glass, Kennedy, Gaff, Waters.

umpires          Fila, Kamolins, Pannell.          crowd 26,132

our votes      Hartlett (PA) 3, Shuey (WC) 2, Wingard (PA) 1.


  1. PeterSchumacher says

    Fantastic report on a fantastic game. I like the idea of getting into the coach’s head in terms of compiling a post like this.

    I really hope that the Port bandwagon continues to the really big clubs.

  2. Peter_B says

    Very witty and clever Rob. For a minute you made me think about doing a companion Woosha piece. But my shrink has advise me to keep away from rusty razor blades.
    Any inside word on Kenny’s current problems, Severe back pain and a ‘virus’ sounds sus to me. Heart scare from the Super Impose finishing close ones???

  3. And the next week, of course, Kenny is admitted to hospital with severe back pain and recovers but the medicos won’t let him fly for a week. That meant he had to stay in Adelaide for Port’s Tasmanian game against North Melbourne… and couldn’t coach. The AFL let him have a couple of telephone calls to the coaches’ bench during that game, but he was not allowed to talk directly to the players.

    Oh, can you imagine his frustration!

    This would have been the week to write about being inside Ken Hinckley’s head! Or even the transcript of the two or three telephone conversations he had with the the assistant coaches. You could write a 45-minute radio play about that situation. Radio National would broadcast it at 3am on a Tuesday.

    Good piece, Rob. I enjoyed it.

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