Is There Enough Respect On Port Adelaide’s Name?
For a club who's just one win, or a Lion’s loss, away from a Minor Premiership, and who’ve spent literally each and every week atop the ladder, Port Adelaide really doesn’t get a lot of love.
While the Stats Insider Futures Model has them as second favourites for the flag, the bookies and general media perception is that all of Richmond, Geelong and Brisbane make for more reliable premiership prospects.
There are a multitude of reasons as to why the Power aren’t being lavished with attention, starting with the fact they simply don’t fit the description of a modern premiership contender.
Over the last 20 years, only Richmond in 2017 were crowned champions the season following missing Finals entirely. And even then, the Tigers had put together three straight September appearances between 2013-15 prior to their 2016 snooze.
The Power? Well Port have played just a solitary Finals match over the last five seasons, and have played in just one Preliminary Final since their 2007 Grand Final humiliation.
In fact, Port entered season 2020 with coach Ken Hinkley under more pressure than any of his contemporaries and was considered an odds-on prospect to get the flick come season’s end.
While there’s no denying how remarkable the Power have been this year, boasting the league’s second best attack and second stingiest defence, the public has been reluctant to reach for the anointing oils, somewhat suspicious of the weight home and away form carries these days.
Of the last 12 teams to have collected a minor premiership, just two (Collingwood in 2010 and Hawthorn in 2013) have converted their regular season dominance into a flag, though nine of the last 12 have at least been good enough to graduate to Grand Final Day.
A further suspicion regarding Port this season is how non-typical the competition is overall, perhaps most evidenced by this year’s Finals set to be staged in Queensland, thus stripping away the usual home-field advantages afforded to top-two clubs.
A further hurdle for Port Adelaide as that this year’s field of contenders appears as formidable as ever, with Richmond in white-hot form winning five in a row, while the likes of Geelong and Brisbane have torched Port in their two encounters, triumphing by a combined 15 goals.
Yet Port can quite easily shove the ‘this isn’t a normal year’ mantra right back in your mouth.
While it's indeed not ‘normal’ to be a sudden premiership prospect after years of relative obscurity, it’s equally not normal to lead the competition for the entirety of the season, while possessing no obviously stark on-field deficiencies.
And how ‘not normal’ really are this year’s Power? In last week’s excellent breakdown of the AFL’s infamous ‘premiership clock’, Josh Elliot identified Port’s list demographics as fitting right in the premiership window, most resembling the 2013 Hawthorn team who won the club its 12 premiership.
And while Port have been absent from Finals football in recent years, few would say they’ve been anything near an awful team. In fact, the Power have endured just one losing season over their last seven and have been able to quietly built an incredibly strong squad under the rest of the competition's nose.
They’ve nailed the bulk of their trade and free agency acquisitions with all of Tom Rockliff, Steve Motlop, Scott Lycett and Charlie Dixon instrumental members of this team, while their most recent first-round picks such as Xavier Duursma, Connor Rozee and Zak Butters all look like potential stars of the league.
What Port have done so far in 2020 has been spectacular, especially considering their lowly pre-season expectations, though doubts regarding their premiership credentials are entirely understandable.
Those losses to Brisbane and more recently Geelong were especially worrisome, and while they did defeat Richmond in Round 11, it was a game where the Tigers fielded no less than 15 players with less than 100 games of experience, and who were still capable of taking a lead into three-quarter time. Finally Port’s form has fluctuated violently this season depending upon the opposition. In matches against bottom-8 foes, the Power are 8-0 and boast a percentage of 180.7. However, against top-8 opponents they are a pedestrian 3-3, while their percentage slips to a concerning 89.1.
If there’s a message on the eve of Finals regarding Port Adelaide it’s that beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder.
While on the one hand it’s fine to look at them and not be blown away by their lofty ladder position, and to be troubled by their form against the very best, it’s equally fine to believe they’ve been given not nearly enough respect for their season-long first place position.
Which dovetails into why Finals football is so intoxicating, and why it functions as the great equaliser amid a competition often lacking in equality.
In a month’s time we’ll know precisely whether we thought too much of what Port had put together over the home and away season, or conversely, whether we were indeed so stupid as to not put enough respect upon their name.
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