23/04/2024

Domenic Cassisi playing for the Port Adelaide Football Club. (Picture: AFL/Design: Theo Dimou)

In a season where premiership-calibre teams have been performing inconsistently, Port Adelaide is riding a club-record 11 consecutive wins and Domenic Cassisi believes they are good enough to reach the promised land for the first time in nearly two decades.

The former skipper was fortunate enough to be in that position, participating in the club’s inaugural and only AFL flag in 2004. 19 years later, the brigade led by Zak Butters, Connor Rozee, and Jason Horne-Francis is looking to repeat history for a supporter base that craves success.

Port Adelaide’s impressive year has seen them defeat fellow fancies like Melbourne, Brisbane, Geelong, and the Western Bulldogs. A team that was known to struggle against the best have now cemented itself as legitimate contenders, entrenched in the top two on the ladder with another attempt at glory.

Domenic Cassisi celebrates winning the 2004 premiership with teammates (Picture: AFL)

Speaking exclusively to The Inner Sanctum, Cassisi is optimistic about the Power’s premiership chances and analysed what has separated them from the competition.

“Their best is good enough. They have shown it, they’ve beaten the best teams,” Cassisi said.

“You need to buy in, have that heart and with no injury and a bit of luck, there’s no reason why they can’t.

“I know they’ve made prelims, but the brand of footy they’re playing is on another level. They’ve got better kicks in the team, multiple scorers, it’s a pretty dynamic setup they have at the moment.

“I guess the biggest difference is their ability to score from turnover, which they probably struggled with the last four or five years.

“If you’re coming up against Port Adelaide at the moment and planning to try [to] beat them, it’s a bloody tough challenge.

“They bring pressure to the opposition, cause the turnover and it allows you to get it back in there [inside 50] again. If you’re poor defensively, they cause turnover and they have chances to take it through the corridor, so it starts with that.”

The 228-gamer also praised the likes of Jed McEntee and Sam Powell-Pepper, explaining that a key component behind Port Adelaide’s rise has been their role players after being known to rely on stars such as Travis Boak and Ollie Wines in previous years.

“Jed McEntee, Powell-Pepper, these guys start all of that stuff,” he said.

“Their hunger to defend and bring pressure, their game gets started off the back of that. Every premiership team will tell you their best offence comes from defence.

“The improvement of the list is huge. Everyone talks about Butters, Rozee, Horne-Francis, but it’s also [Dylan] Williams, [Kane] Farrell, [Dan] Houston, and Bergman.

“Each line you look at, there’s significant depth and they’re young, playing a good brand of footy.”

After a Showdown loss in Round 3 that followed a 71-point thumping from Collingwood, it looked bleak for Port Adelaide to the extent fans were once again calling for Ken Hinkley to be vacated from his role as head coach.

Club legend and fellow premiership player, Warren Tredrea labelled Hinkley’s position as “untenable” and it divided the football world. The incident is still revisited and discussed today, as Cassisi explained the flow-on effects a sacking would have had.

“You take Ken out of the situation and Port Adelaide, no club would part ways with a coach in Round 3,” he said.

“Who would want to be a caretaker [coach] for 20 rounds? Whoever it will be, you haven’t been able to do a preseason the way you want your team to be playing.

“You are basically saying to your supporters you are giving up on the season in Round 3, so you don’t have people coming through the gates and attendance drops off. I don’t see any positive to it.

“It’s not a Kenny or Port Adelaide thing, it’s a sporting organisation thing. You’re giving away a season and so many things can fall off the back of it.

“It’s quite a staggering comment. It would be a silly decision, it derails the whole place from a spectator point of view, people rolling through the gates and player retention.”

Ken Hinkley addressing his players (Picture: AFL)

A popular view within Port Adelaide is that Hinkley is looked at as a father figure by the players, which has been evident through the development of the young midfield that has catapulted the team into flag contention.

While Cassisi retired in 2014 and only had Hinkley as coach for just under two years, he reminisced on the role model he was for him and reflected on other successes he has had.

“He was a leader and his coaching history is pretty solid,” he said.

“He’s made three prelims and we’ve gone through mini rebuilds in his tenure without bottoming out.

“To be able to play in three prelims and sit on top of the ladder, giving yourself an opportunity when it’s really hard, and now we’re sitting in a season winning 11 in a row with a really young list.

“Sometimes I get frustrated because the supporters don’t understand how hard it is. I understand coming from that era of ‘we exist to win premierships’, and absolutely the expectation should be there, but it’s a very different competition to what it was pre-AFL.”

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Currently sitting on 338 games, Travis Boak will forever be an icon of the Port Adelaide Football Club. His commitment and leadership is unrivalled, always having a positive influence on the younger generation and playing whatever role he is given to perfection.

He already holds the record for the most games played by a Port Adelaide player and could even reach 350 in a Grand Final berth, if the cards align.

Boak was the successor to Cassisi’s captaincy in 2013, as the latter explained to The Inner Sanctum his leadership and what unsurprisingly stands out to most.

“Everyone knows about Boaky’s professionalism, his want to get better,” he said.

“He leads by example, he’s not the most vocal, but leads by example.

“Having Boaky there, there is a reason why their young midfield is not only talented but super professional. They’re catching onto it early because they are seeing what he does.

“He’s been unbelievable for the club and I’m happy for him because he’d be loving his footy. The pressure is not all on him, he can go out there and play his role.

“Winning at the end of your career is enjoyable.”

Travis Boak’s first photoshoot as captain (Picture: Port Adelaide Football Club)

Miles Bergman and Mitch Georgiades are two players on Port Adelaide’s list that could be lured back home to Victoria and Western Australia respectively at season’s end.

Bergman is enjoying a career-best year, proving to be an important cog in the Power’s backline and increasing his value each week. Georgiades is currently recovering from a knee reconstruction, tearing his ACL in a SANFL match in April.

Arriving at Alberton in the 2000 Draft from Western Australia, Cassisi was also in the same situation of being drafted to a club away from home. However, he is pleading with the youngsters to assess the Power’s current position and the potential for long-term triumph.

“It’s really hard to find a playing group that is as connected as Port Adelaide,” he said.

“You got to look at the footy department as a whole. The fitness programs and strength programs are elite at the club.

“More importantly, they’re now part of a young group that could have an amazing next four or five years.

“It’d be silly to leave that now and I’d be seeing it out for another three or four years, the success they can have is pretty exciting.”

Miles Bergman in action (Picture: AFL)

As for life post-retirement, Cassisi is the Managing Director of a business he started called Funding Options. He had the opportunity to hold a coaching position at Port Adelaide after the conclusion of his playing career but opted for a new venture.

“It’s been really enjoyable,” he said.

“It’s been nine years since I finished playing and I started the business up about a year before I finished.

“When footy finished, I had a decision to make whether I have a role at the club in some sort of coaching capacity or start a business. At that point in time, I was pretty excited to get out of footy and do something different, and test myself a bit.

“It was challenging early like anyone who is starting a business, but nine years later, I am lucky to enjoy what I do, because that’s the most important thing and I work with great people.

“The business has gone from strength to strength, which is good.”

Domenic Cassisi enjoying his new career post-AFL (Picture: Funding Options)

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