Round 5 – Port Adelaide v Geelong: Port must go backwards to eventually move forwards

Port Adelaide v Geelong

April 24th, 2016

RD 5

Adelaide Oval, Adelaide


Port Adelaide are a fractured, fragile football club. Exhibit A – last night’s capitulation to Geelong in front of 44,000 people at Adelaide Oval. This is not a recent fracture. The seeds were sown in the summer of 2014/15, when players, officials and support staff became complacent, bigheaded and arrogant on the back of a fine, preliminary final-making season. The wheels have since fallen off dramatically.


The temptation was there to suggest that last season Port had the inevitable after-honeymoon slide down the ladder, a season they had to have. That thinking has now been proven to be nonsense. Port’s slide from almost Grand Finalist to cellar dweller has been brought about not because of a competition that knows how to level a playing field very quickly, or because other clubs ‘worked’ Port and its game style out. No, it’s been brought about by infighting, arrogance and lazy players not working hard enough on game day; coasting instead progressing. To many at Port Adelaide, players and coaches mind you, reaching a preliminary final in 2014 was as good enough. Now certain Port Adelaide players will wake up this morning with one dark, grim reality. Reaching a preliminary final in 2014 was as high a position on the ladder as they will ever get.


When David Koch last week labelled Port’s effort against GWS as ‘disgraceful’, he was right. And it was a fair call from a president. He’s entitled to say that. Problem is, you cannot come out and say that every week. You get one chance at saying that for the season. He’s said it, and Port’s reaction on Saturday night against the Cats was emphatic – for 20 minutes. That was all Port could muster as a response to last weeks’ mauling. Thereafter Geelong gave Port a lesson in hard tackling, defensive pressure and taking scoreboard opportunities. Port wilted from quarter time onwards. It was Port’s most disappointing loss for the season when considering the enormous pressure both externally and internally the club received during the build-up to the match.


So let’s view Port’s fall from grace as dispassionately as possible. Port’s top end of their list is strong. Boak, Hartlett, Wingard, Gray, Ebert, Broadbent; all very good players, a couple of them match winners and all club leaders. Last night Gray was soundly beaten, but has had a good season so far. Wingard was quiet. Broadbent started well but faded badly. Boak is enduring a poor season, both as leader and as a player. His possession rate is down, but what has done is average. Ebert works hard but burns the ball far too much. Harlett, one of the most skilful players at AFL level is not doing enough and his ball use tardy at times. That’s Port’s top six players. Thereafter Port’s list falls away dramatically.


Taking the 2016 season in isolation, only Jasper Pittard and new recruit Darcy Byrne-Jones can hold their heads high. Aaron Young has been important at times and is obviously relishing not having to wear a stupid subs vest. And that’s it. Jimmy Toumpas and Charlie Dixon, Port’s two highly-prized recruits have been poor. Followers of Port Adelaide in the early 1990s will remember Wes Fellowes, and amiable ruckmen brought to the club in the wake of Russell Johnston’s retirement. He was garbage – all tip and no iceberg. Charlie Dixon is the 2016 equivalent. Toumpas is soft, a front runner who last night squibbed more than one body on body contest when he just had to put his body on the line for his team. He chose not to. He baulked at a hard content. I’ve wondered out loud why Port bothered to pick him up over the summer when he could barely manage a game at Melbourne.


Matthew Lobbe must be dropped now. He simply hasn’t played a decent game of football at Port for 18 months. He’s gone from a bright prospect and one of Port’s leaders to be completely and utterly ineffectual. Polec, dropped for the Geelong game having played okay against Essendon will not feature at Port in 2017, so should be cut adrift now and his place given to Mitchell permanently. Matt White is the same, and Jay Schultz another who won’t, and definitely shouldn’t feature in a game again. Those three were all picked up as stop gaps by Port, and at least one came with a poor record of going missing regularly. That has been proven correct. Westhoff, often so maligned early in his career has worked hard at his football, and given Port something over the last three seasons. It’s time he was thrown forward in place of Dixon and left there for good. The dilemma of where to play Dixon could be solved as easily as having him as the resting ruckman coming off the bench. Who you play in ruck? Bring Butcher in, play him in ruck and use his talents (high leap, solid hands) as opposed to continuing to accentuate his failings (kicking). He’s not a goal kicker of any great note. In fact his constant misses suck the confidence and energy from the good work taken to actually get him the ball in the first place.


Throw Wingard on a wing, and leave him there. Let him run off half-back, go forward when needed and let him create. He’s wasted sitting up forward if the ball doesn’t get there. Gray can remain as midfielder-forward; having two of the same type of player in the forward line isn’t working and robs the centre of the ground of imagination.


The defence has been swamped. Pittard has been terrific, and perhaps now the small minority of dickheads at Adelaide Oval can cease bemoaning his occasional knack for a brain fade. He’s a wonderful instinctive player, has pace and imagination, creates and supports. The mouthful he gave Lobbe last night as the ruckman was out marked, again, by his Geelong opponent in front of goal was telling. And fair.


Hombsch and Jonas are great young defenders, but lacking support from a misfiring midfield. Both, along with Pittard should be the first three names pencilled in every week.


What of the coaching panel? Last night Ken Hinkley looked lost in the box, bereft of a plan B – a deer in headlights. His future must now be questioned. He earnt himself some credits in the bank with Port’s 2013-4 revival. Those credits have now been used up. This is his fourth season as a senior AFL coach. He’s stagnating, lacking ideas and for all the talk of his competitive nature lacking a killer instinct. He isn’t getting the support in the box, but then he is the senior coach. Delegating on game day doesn’t really work, and a coaches’ box is not a place for a democracy. Since Michael Voss began at Port question marks have been asked about his ability to coach. Garry Hocking has been at Port for some time, since the dark days, but his footballing voice doesn’t seem to seep into Port’s game plan or tactics.


Port must now go backwards to go forwards. The majority of Port’s list will not feature in Port’s next premiership. Port’s depth is poor. When the leaders like the abovementioned fail to fire, Port struggle. A list overhaul is needed, not in round 20 but this week. Butcher, Mitchell in, Lobbe definitely out. Re-jig the forward line, instruct all players before next Saturday night’s game against Richmond that as a club Port are reverting to genuine 1980s football. Meaning, every player has an opponent. Every player must concentrate on man-marking that opponent for the entire game. All a player must concentrate on doing for the entire 120 minutes is to beat his opponent. Forget systems, styles, offence, defence – play simple, accountable football. It is the only way to move forward now for Port.


Port are fractured, Port are fragile. You can’t watch Port Adelaide with any confidence that you’re certain what the team will deliver. That’s dangerous, and disheartening. Football isn’t a difficult game, but it’s been overcomplicated for too long. Port Adelaide football, and hearing meaningless slogans week in week out from Hinkley and Koch gets insulting very quickly when the players turn out rubbish, non-competitive performances like those last night.




  1. Dan Hansen says

    This is one of the best articles I’ve read about the Port dilemma. I agree with 95% of it. I agree with your assessment of Dixon, Toumpas, Lobbe, Boak, Hartlett, Gray, Ebert, Polec, Young, Pittard and Byrne-Jones. I disagree with Butch. He cannot go one on one against a big bodied defender. I saw him absolutely man-handled by Heath Grundy in the Sydney trial match and if you block his running jump he is ineffective. He is not an AFL footballer.

    Depth has been our problem for the last eight years. We have about eighteen guys who pick themselves of which the last six are lower end AFL players. Then we have about another eight players who are fringe AFL players. I’m talking about Mitchell, Neade, Amon, Stewart, O’Shea, etc who are in and out of the team on a cyclical basis.

    We got away with out running teams for about two years but our lack of depth has caught up as the other 17 clubs are now as fit.

  2. Yes, I’m with young Dan above and you Chris. Went to Alberton yesterday and saw little to replace those who played v Geelong. Dougal Howard is too young and raw to replace Lobbe and I doubt Dixon has the stamina. Pittard reminds me of Peter Burgoyne some times – mostly very good with occasional meltdowns. Mitchell is mostly a bit player who also burns the ball in my view. Recruiting must get a significant review in my opinion, for too long we have recruited lightly framed players who get found out. Wines excepted. Butcher played a fair bit in the ruck yesterday and does seem to have improved his kicking routine this year. Stewart and O’Shea should go, not going to make impact at AFL level.

    But we play Richmond this week, so the big test awaits…..should we have tried harder to keep “Charlie” Chaplin?

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