Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley had a hunch last year. Now, he’s certain.
Many scoffed 12 months ago when Hinkley boldly declared his AFL side – which had missed the finals in four of the previous five seasons – was coming for the flag.
But Hinkley was correct: Port held top spot at the end of every home-and-away round – just the eighth team in VFL/AFL history to achieve the feat.
Port boasted the stingiest defence; the second-best attack; ranked top in key statistics including inside 50s, clearance and tackles.
The Power won a qualifying final but fell just six points short of eventual premiers Richmond in a preliminary final.
“It gives you belief that we’re more than capable, that we’re capable of winning this,” Hinkley told AAP.
“But it just goes to show you can do lots of things right and still not ultimately get where you desire.
“Unfortunately we fell a little bit short and that certainly hurts and that drives you.
“We were really close to the best team in the competition but there’s no satisfaction in getting close.
“It’s about winning. And we want to be the best team in the competition.”
To achieve that, Hinkley said the Power must improve yet again.
“This comp, everyone gets better, there is always changes to the ladder every year, there is always changes to the top four every year,” he said.
“If you don’t give everything you have got to improve, you’ll find you slip up.”
Hinkley started last season with his tenure reliant on making the finals.
He now has a contract extension until the end of 2023 and has set about bolstering his already imposing playing list.
The Power lured Aliir Aliir from Sydney to fix one perceived weakness: the lack of a burly key defender to stand opposition power forwards.
“He is that, but he has also got great flexibility,” Hinkley said of 26-year-old Aliir.
“We know what he can do in other areas of the ground … but he’s that intercepting defender that is a little bit taller than we have had, has got a bit of speed and he clicks into offence really quickly.”
The Power also recruited injury-plagued goalsneak Orazia Fantasia from Essendon, where he managed just five games last season.
“He couldn’t be more impressive … he basically hasn’t missed a session since he got to us,” Hinkley said.
Fantasia offers another scoring option in a forward line headed by Charlie Dixon and triple club champion Robbie Gray.
And his arrival frees precocious talents Connor Rozee and Zak Butters to add polish to a renowned blue-collar midfield led by Travis Boak, Ollie Wines and Tom Rockliff.
“I am sure they wouldn’t mind me saying they’re not the most skilful midfield group going around, but they give everything they have got,” Hinkley said.
Port also snared Lachie Jones in the draft, an 18-year-old SANFL half-back from Yorke Peninsula who is built like the proverbial country outhouse.
Like Aliir, Jones is ready-made to slot into a formidable defence featuring captain Tom Jonas, club champion and All Australian Darcy Byrne-Jones, Hamish Hartlett, Ryan Burton and Tom Clurey.
“It makes us better because our depth is better and our quality of that depth is even better,” Hinkley said.
“There’s going to be some good players miss out at times which is great from a performance point of view, from a coaching point of view, but also for the players … it pushes them to a new level and makes them value their spot even more.”