22/04/2024
Ken Hinkley will remain at Port Adelaide until 2023. Picture: portadelaidefc.com.au

Ken Hinkley will remain at Port Adelaide until 2023. Picture: portadelaidefc.com.au

Ken Hinkley has many reasons to be eternally grateful to his first Port Adelaide captain, Travis Boak.

His list of gratitude even includes the moment when Boak commanded the stage to take the well-earned applause for his 350th AFL game on the same weekend Hinkley joined the elite group of AFL coaches to reach 250 matches.

“My milestone disappears; it works out really well,” Hinkley said last week on the eve of becoming the 34th VFL-AFL coach since 1897 to reach the 250th milestone – and just the 15th to do such at one club.

Hinkley also marked his 150th win at the weekend with the triumph against Richmond at the MCG.

So significant is Hinkley’s era at Port Adelaide – with a tenure that is second only to premiership coach Mark Williams (273 matches from 1999-2010) – that the weekend’s moment should not pass with meaningful reflection, as much as Hinkley would prefer to stay out of the limelight these days.

Hinkley arrived at Alberton at the end of the 2012 AFL season when the Port Adelaide Football Club had become unfashionable to many while its AFL licence and sub-licence from the SANFL was a political pawn in a long-standing battle between AFL House in Melbourne and the game’s would-be powerbrokers in Adelaide, all seeking to shape South Australian football.

In 2024, Port Adelaide is a sound football club with a sustainable and growing business model with massively reduced debt and a financial cache that can now fully fund an admired football program.

On the field, there is a squad that has become repetitively competitive – six final series during the past 11 seasons, three preliminary final appearances and no finish of lower than 11th (in 2022 when for the first time under Hinkley there were more losses than wins, 12 in 22 home-and-away matches).

So much focus remains on the senior coach more so than the program and team built around the football squad.

In his 12 years at Port Adelaide, Hinkley has continually found new energy and new themes to keep his coaching more than relevant in a league that punishes those who stand still without progressive thinking.

The long-standing note of a coach who enhances players – and thereby encourages many to seek to join Port Adelaide – is underlined again and again during the AFL trade period, as highlighted by the gains list manager Jason Cripps made in October with the signings of ruck pair Ivan Soldo and Jordan Sweet and defensive duo Brandon Zerk-Thatcher and Esava Ratugolea.

The so-called “last man standing” of 2012 when so many others turned away from Port Adelaide remains the right man to complete the ride from salvation to glory.

“I am grateful to the footy club for my time here,” says Hinkley. “To be here for this long is an absolute honour. It is not something I take lightly.”

The grand final appearance – the much-wanted premiership – remains to be achieved.

Climbing the mountain to reach the peak is the ultimate challenge in a football program that keeps Port Adelaide in the AFL’s best-performing group. And some of the views along the climb to greatest are worth reflecting on…

THE HIGHLIGHT MOMENTS

GAMES 1-50

Round 1, 2013 to round 2, 2015
WINS: 29
BIGGEST WIN: Game 27, 113 points v Brisbane (round 4, 2014).

MOST MEMORABLE: There are three games that made significant statements about the Port Adelaide Football Club during Ken Hinkley’s first 50 matches as senior coach – and one match, a knockout final, that stands out for the “never ever give in” theme that was to define Port Adelaide from the start of is era.

Game 1: Beating Melbourne first up at the MCG by 79 points when so much had been said during the summer – even on billboards – delivered more than a statement on how Port Adelaide was to become immediately competitive without a rebuild.

And Hinkley’s post-game message that no team would outrun his players kept building the new image for a team that had copped heavy hits to its status and credibility in 2010-2012.

Game 25: Another vital statement in winning the first Showdown at Adelaide Oval in 2014 – and convincingly by 54 points.

Game 46: Who will ever forget the build-up – with the AFL trying to put Port Adelaide in an away jumper for its first national league final at Adelaide Oval – or the eight-goal start against Richmond in the 2014 elimination final.

But if any game stands out for the character that Hinkley built into his squad in the first 50 games it is the extraordinary win achieved against Fremantle in the semi-final at Subiaco Oval in Perth in 2014.

Down by 17 points after scoring just three goals in the first half, Port Adelaide blitzed and broke the Ross Lyon defensive system to score 12 goals (while conceding just five) in the second half for a 28-point win. Never ever give in!

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GAMES 51-100

Round 3, 2015 to round 8, 2017
WINS: 27
BIGGEST WIN: Game 89, 94 points v Brisbane (round 19, 2016).

MOST MEMORABLE: Game 100 – beating Gold Coast by 72 points at Jiangwan Stadium in Shanghai, China in round 8, 2017 when so much was at stake for the Port Adelaide Football Club and Australian football with the first match played for premiership points outside Australia and New Zealand.

The preparation of the team and the perfect execution of a plan with no template to copy highlighted the strength of the football program to achieve a result anywhere, anytime.

Game 52 early in 2015 was a solid response – with an exhilarating eight-goal opening at Adelaide Oval – against AFL premier Hawthorn after the heartbreak in the preliminary final at the MCG eight months earlier.

Game 62 was a three-point win – with a test of everyone’s nerves – against Collingwood at Adelaide Oval while the club dedicated the match to 2004 premiership-winning assistant coach Phil Walsh as all of football was in shock by his death.

There is a lasting image of Boak and Hinkley embracing at the end of the game after a frenetic final 10 minutes in which an 18-point lead was cut to the winning three points.

GAMES 101-150

Round 10, 2017 to round 14, 2019
WINS: 28
BIGGEST WIN: Game 114, 115 points v Gold Coast (round 23, 2017).

MOST MEMORABLE: Three big finishes …

Game 118 ends with a three-point win against Brisbane at Adelaide Oval – in round 3, 2018 – with wingman Jared Polec making a critical save against his former side on the goal-line at the Riverbank end.

Game 123 has the Robbie Gray Show that eroded a 21-point deficit at half-time to create a five-point win in the first derby of 2018 with his five-goal master class during the third term.

And what of the finish with the newly recruited Steven Motlop scoring the winning goal at the northern end of Adelaide Oval with 21 seconds to play.

Ken Hinkley’s reaction to the opposition fans who had reminded him that Port Adelaide had lost the previous five Showdowns was classic … even if his wife Donna was bemused. “Silly, crazy and idiot,” were the words Hinkley remembers welcomed him on his return home.

“The emotions are crazy in this game … sometimes they are out of control,” Hinkley notes.

But for pure football – and drama – there is the finish to Game 110. It is still one of the most beautiful plays to unfold anywhere.

From a boundary throw-in on the north-west edge of the 50-metre arc Adelaide Oval, Paddy Ryder’s tap set Gray on a path through three St Kilda rivals to kick the winning goal with seconds left the clock for a two-point win in round 19, 2017.

A moment, Hinkley declared, “that can make seasons”. It took Port Adelaide to finals again.

GAMES 151-200

Round 15, 2019 to round 3, 2021
WINS: 36
BIGGEST WIN: Game 164, 95 points v Carlton (round 22, 2021)

MOST MEMORABLE: Spoiled for choices in this 50-game run that was testing for the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID pandemic.

Game 182 (round 4, 2021) ended with a two-point win against Richmond, with Port Adelaide again proving it could stand up to a defending AFL premier.

Game 188 (round 10, 2021) delivered (after scoring just one behind in the first term) the one-point win against the locksmiths of Collingwood at the MCG.

Game 198 (round 21, 2021) was another epic Showdown finish – with a four-point winning margin after Port Adelaide had been caught behind on the Adelaide Oval scoreboards for most of the 50th derby. Never ever give in …

Game 200 (round 23, 2021) answered the challenge of standing up to a serious rival on the road – gaining the reward of a top-two finish and home final – with a two-point win against the Western Bulldogs at the Docklands in Melbourne.

But the best of these six-point results was game 166 (round 7, 2020) at the Gabba with Robbie Gray’s winning goal from the boundary to sink Carlton by three points.

GAMES 201-250
Qualifying final, 2021 to round 2, 2024
WINS: 30
BIGGEST WIN: Game 208, 84 points v West Coast (round 6, 2022) and Game 222, v Essendon (round 22, 2022).

MOST MEMORABLE: Game 227 at the SCG last season with Port Adelaide under considerable pressure after the 1-2 start.

Off a Showdown loss and consecutive defeats, Port Adelaide played Sydney with far more than four premiership points on the line – particularly with Ken Hinkley’s future part of a seemingly weekly debate externally.

It was an epic game with an amazing finish as key defender Aliir Aliir blocked the last kick of the game that would have made Ollie Florent a matchwinner for the Swans. Port Adelaide’s two-point win started a 13-game winning streak.

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