Are you ready to start believing yet?

Are your doubts starting to fade?

Is it time to take the opinions of some in the AFL media who barely considered Port Adelaide a legitimate threat and flush them where they belong?

There is a very good reason the Power sat atop the AFL Ladder the entire season, and the fact is that this team is a bloody good one. They are hard-working, pressuring, courageous and never, ever shirk the issue. They possess a midfield that is as blue-collar as any in the game. Every bloke in there is more than willing to get his hands dirty… right up to the elbows if required. And they combine that with an almost perfect balance of class and grunt across the park.

The class of Darcy Byrne-Jones, Dan Houston and Robbie Gray is matched by the mongrel of Zak Butters and Sam Powell-Pepper. The underrated bullocking work of Brad Ebert is complemented by the smooth moving and power running of Karl Amon.

They took on a seasoned team, a team that was supposed to go one step further this season. A team that was rated as a more realistic chance at the flag. It was a team that boasted names like Dangerfield, Selwood and Hawkins.

But it was also a team with some finals skeletons in their closet, and the manic attack of Port Adelaide had them tumbling out for all to see.

The Power move into the Preliminary Final. The Cats will now fight for their lives.

So many questions have come out of the game – let’s answer as many of them as we can in The Mongrel’s Big Questions. Away we go…

 

HOW UNDERRATED IS BRAD EBERT?

There is a word that is not used enough when talking about the Hinkley years at Port Adelaide. Sure, many other words have been thrown around – some of them none too kind, but there is another word that should be used to describe what he has implemented at Port.

That word is ‘sacrifice’.

And no one has sacrificed his game more than Brad Ebert in recent years.

If you’re a recent AFL devotee, or simply haven’t paid too much attention to Port Adelaide over the journey, you could be forgiven for thinking Ebert is simply a pretty good half forward who can bob up, kick a couple of goals and make his man accountable.

But you’d be missing the bigger picture.

Brad Ebert is a Ken Hinkley success story that is better with less of the footy than he was when he was a midfielder three or four years ago. You see, Ebert was a tackling machine in the guts for Port, with five straight seasons averaging between 5.5 and 7.6 tackles per game.

Then, in 2018 Ebert made the switch to the role of pressuring forward that was also pretty bloody good overhead, and whilst averaging over a goal a game in 2018 should have more than justified the move, it is nights like this that make you sit back, think about that move and realise that these coaches aren’t quite as silly as some think.

Well, most of them, anyway.

Hinkley saw the potential of Ebert to impact games as a forward and we saw it ourselves this evening.

Ebert slotted two goals, including one beauty to end the second quarter and undo much of Geelong’s hard work, but he also picked up 16 telling disposals as he worked hard to negate the influence off half back of Tom Stewart.

Whilst Stewart would switch to Connor Rozee after half time, Ebert continued to do damage, slotting his second goal in the third quarter as the Power made their break.

After the game, Garry Lyon actually had something incisive to say in regard to Ken Hinkley’s coaching – “If you haven’t got their hearts, you’ll never have their minds.”

Ken Hinkley has the hearts of this Port Adelaide team, and you only have to look at the way Brad Ebert not only applies himself in the role he now occupies, but the way he embraces it as proof.

Sacrifice.

 

IS THERE A THREE-MAN MIDFIELD YOU’D RATHER GO TO WAR WITH THAN BOAK, ROCKLIFF AND WINES?

They’re a formidable bunch, aren’t they?

Powerful, unrelenting, tenacious. I could just state random words all day about this trio of big-bodied mids that powered Port home in this game.

We first got a real taste of what this powerhouse midfield could do against another contender this season. In Round 11, Port sent a strong message to the rest of the competition when the Tigers came to town, and were sent home on the end of one of Port’s more impressive outings of the season.

Challenged by the Tigers, the Port midfield responded, and they looked that day as though they could be the kind of combination that could carry a team over any hurdle. They were at it again in this one, and it came as no surprise to me to see those three names atop the disposal count for this game.

Boak, Wines and Rockliff were all incredibly solid, combining for 14 clearances and 36 contested touches between them. With a great attack on the footy, the ability to stand in tackles before releasing and lightning quick handballs to teammates, these three made life incredibly tough for the Geelong midfield. When you add in the 19 combined tackles, you get the picture that these blokes were not in there playing nice – they are warriors!

We hear a lot about winning clearances, getting first hands to the ball and so on – that’s all well and good as long as you’re actually doing something with it. Teams like Richmond rarely win that category, but when they do get the footy, they hurt sides with it – Port was able to do both this evening, and much of that was thanks to the continued efforts  of two former captains and one bloke playing his first-ever AFL final.

But it won’t be his last.

 

HOW MANY LITTLE THINGS DID ZAK BUTTERS DO TO TURN THE TIDE OF THE GAME?

We almost had to put a warning out to the local community around Mongrel headquarters when Zak Butters went crashing into two Geelong defenders in the last quarter, causing a spillage and leading to a Power goal.

Make no mistake, our own Matt Oman has a borderline unhealthy affection for the young man in the number 18 guernsey for the Power, but watching the way he goes about it, how difficult is it to not like the way Zak Butters plays.

For a bloke his size, he goes as hard at the body of an opponent as anyone in the game, and coming off a two-week layoff for a clip of Jy Simpkin, you could somewhat expect him to be a little more… tentative in his approach to his footy.

Nup – not this fella!

Butters was once again using his body as a battering ram in this one, but to pigeon hole him as just that sort of player sells him drastically short. His hands at ground level are unbelievable clean, and his disposal (apart from one kick in the first quarter) and decision making see him become a huge force anywhere near the forward half.

His numbers in this one were modest – 14 touches, four tackles and a goal assist, but it was the little things Butters was able to do that made big differences in this game. And none of them meant more than his kamikaze attack on the contest to create a scoring opportunity for his team in the last quarter.

Pretty soon, Matt Oman may have to start sharing Butters with me in terms of favourite Port players. He won’t like that…

And yes, I know I really didn’t answer the question. Plenty… he did plenty to alter the course of this game.

 

 

SHOULD CHRIS SCOTT HAVE MOVED ABLETT INTO THE MIDDLE EARLIER?

It was no coincidence that the brilliant running Dangerfield goal started with Gary Ablett stepping around an opponent and kicking long to get the Cats going. It’s very Captain Hindsight of me, but is this something Chris Scott should have considered earlier?

There are a few factors at play here – did Gaz have the tank to spend more time in the guts, or at half back? And who else was going to provide a target across half forward in his absence? With Gary Rohan and Gryan Miers both right down on form, it didn’t leave the Cats with many options. Maybe Scott felt that Ablett was the only one up there who could get hold of the Port defence, even though he hadn’t really looked like it to that point.

Geelong looked a little panicked exiting their defensive fifty, and perhaps the calming influence and great field kicking of the Little Master could have opened things up. Alas, we got a small taste and a small taste only.

And that small taste was not enough to get the Cats over the hump.

 

 

DID THE POWER GET LUCKY WITH THE HAWKINS MATCH UP?

If Hawkins kicks 5.1 and proves to be the match winner, we’d all be jumping up and down talking about how great he was and how Ken Hinkley made a huge mistake by putting Trent McKenzie on him.

But he didn’t, and therefore, we should not discount the work of the Port defence and McKenzie as well. The marks Hawkins took were all out wide. All his shots at goal except for one were from tough angles and that kind of stuff doesn’t happen by accident. That is a well thought out game plan being applied in order to give the big Cat no room up the middle to lead.

There’ll be a lot of ifs and buts about this game and many of them will centre around Hawkins’ inability to convert from set shots. He did the hard work… and against this Port Adelaide team is was definitely hard work to mark the footy inside 50 but due to the diligence of the entire defence, there were no easy shots for the Coleman Medallist at all.

And on this day, he wasn’t good enough to capitalise on the tough shots.

 

DID THE CATS COMPLETELY LOSE THEIR COMPOSURE IN THE THIRD QUARTER?

They did. Port took it from them and they really struggled to get it back. There was a five minute period where it looked as though they were picking up Hamish Hartlett and kicking it straight to him.

Jack Henry had a fair bit of deer-in-the-headlights about him, which left him wide open to be tackles, and even the normally-composed Cam Guthrie sprayed an inboard kick which led to a turnover.

I guess it isn’t so much that they lost their composure as much as it was taken from them. The relentless Port Adelaide pressure denied the Cats the time and space to get out, open the game up and hit targets. You could see Geelong wanted to do it, but they wanted to do it on their own terms, and Port were just not allowing it.

Geelong’s terms are methodical. They like a bit of time to work the footy into the hands of their forwards. In contrast, when Port went forward, it was manic – forward handballs and players legitimately bringing the ball to ground for their teammates to run onto created chaos for the Cats’ defence to deal with.

Geelong will play the winner of the West Coast v Collingwood clash, and you have to wonder what yet another premature finals exit would mean for Chris Scott, whose finals record leaves a fair bit to be desired.

But hey… he’s a hell of a home and away coach, right?

 

WHEN WILL TEAMS LEARN ABOUT TOM HAWKINS IN THE RUCK?

Three times, people. There were three times in this game where Tom Hawkins was simply allowed to push either Scott Lycett or Peter Ladhams out of the contest inside attacking fifty and win the footy cleanly.

Simply put – this is unacceptable.

This tactic has been used by Hawkins all season, and going into this game both the Port rucks and defenders should have been well aware that this was a tactic Hawkins would be looking to employ, and therefore should have been on the lookout for it. As soon as he took the footy, there should have been one, or even two Port players all over him, preventing him from getting a clean handball away.

The fact that he was able to conjure a possession three times from the ruck contest is an indication that the Power still have a bit of homework to do.

I asked above whether Port got lucky with the match up. No, they handled that aspect well, but they did get lucky that these lapses at throw ins inside their defensive fifty did not come back to bite them.

 

HOW WOULD CATS FANS BE FEELING ABOUT STEVEN MOTLOP?

It’s funny – I was talking to a couple of passionate Cats fans at work a while back, after Motlop made the move away from the Cats to Port Adelaide and they were laughing and smiling about it. To state they were happy he was gone would be an understatement.

I remember a couple of quotes from them at the time… or at least the gist of them. I’d be some kind of savant to remember them word for word.

One quote went something like “Now they’ll (Port supporters) will know what we’ve put up with for years.”

The other was something like “Goes missing in big games.”

Sadly, both of them have moved on from my workplace (no doubt onto bigger and much better things) and that’s a real shame, as I’d kind of like to get some more quotes from them when I wander back in tomorrow.

It’s no secret that plenty of Geelong fans were fine with seeing the back of Steven Motlop, but it is amazing how often something like this can come back to bite a club. Motlop finished with three goals – the first time he’s done that since he was at Geelong in 2017 and drove a dagger into the hearts of Cats fans as his deft tap to Peter Ladhams, and centring ball to Zak Butters both set up last quarter goals. Only the Ladhams goal was a direct assist for Motlop, but his decision making and skill with the footy were integral to Port’s scoring chances.

Whilst he has had better games overall for Port, in his most important clash to date, Motlop stood up.

But he goes missing in big games and Cats fans were happy to see him go… so more power to them.

 

HAVE PORT WON THIS SEASON WHEN CHARLIE DIXON HASN’T TAKEN A MARK?

Not until now. You see, we actually have to go back to Round 21, 2014 to find the last time Big Charlie failed to take a grab in a game, so whilst you’d rather he had SOME influence, Port do not live and die by the play of Charlie Dixon.

And him playing poorly in this instance isn’t all bad. It proves the Power can win without relying on his influence.

Port’s three losses in 2021 have come when Dixon has been well held. His output in those three games totals just one goal. To have their spearhead so well held and still come out on top at this stage of the season demonstrates that this team is no one-trick pony.

 

DOES RAY CHAMBERLAIN NEED TO SETTLE DOWN A BIT IN FIRST QUARTERS?

This is not a knock on umpires; more a knock on just one umpire.

Of the ten free kicks paid in the first quarter, Ray Chamberlain awarded eight of them. Watching the game, it felt as though whenever there was a line-ball decision to be adjudicated in the first twenty minutes of footy, it was Razor Ray running in like his arse was on fire, desperate to make a call.

Now some of them were there, and I don’t actually think it really benefitted one team over another, but it really felt as though he was attempting to control the game and pre-empt any kind of altercation between players by paying free kicks right from the get-go.

His little power trip continued into the second quarter, but by that stage, Id’ stopped counting and decided to concentrate solely on the footy, blocking out his insistent chatter.

As I said, I am not sure they overly influenced the game, so all is well that ends well, I suppose, but if my team were playing in a Grand Final, and I had that bloke yapping and dictating terms… I’m not sure I’d be so blasé about it all.

It’s finals, Ray. Put the whistle away and let the boys play!

 

COULD RHYS STANLEY HAVE BEEN THE HERO?

I really liked the game of Rhys Stanley, and I thought it may have been the presence capable of swinging things Geelong’s way in the last quarter.

Whilst Scott Lycett is a force both in the air and at ground level, the athleticism of Stanley worried him a little, and his ability to go forward and hit the scoreboard had to have sent a few shivers up the spines of the Power fans.

When Stanley kicked the goal in the last quarter, there was a genuine sense that the Cats were coming. I started wondering whether Port had done enough in the third quarter to put the game away, and whether this contest would be remembered as a lost opportunity for the Power.

The Cats have missed Stanley. Forced to go with the raw Esava Ratugolea, they have been without a ruck that can have impact at both ends of the ground, and with this game under his belt, you’d think Chris Scott would be pretty content with running a Stanley/Blicavs combination next week.

 

DID WE JUST SEE ANOTHER GARY ROHAN FINALS SPECIAL OR DID TOM CLUREY REDEEM HIMSELF?

Both, actually. Let’s start with Rohan – you don’t like to do this, but the evidence is starting to pile up…

For what it’s worth, I thought Rohan threw himself into contests well, and his work to close Clurey down on the wing early in the last quarter opened the door for another Tom Hawkins shot at goal.

And another miss.

But for the good little things Rohan did, there was nothing big to go along with it, and it is becoming a real finals worry. Here are his last four finals disposal totals.

  • 2017 Elimination Final. Seven touches
  • 2017 Semi-Final. Seven touches
  • 2019 Qualifying Final. Three touches
  • 2020 Qualifying Final. Five touches

Any mathmagicians out there? Wanna give a guess as to his average?

5.5 touches per game. I have to ask you – is that good enough? More to the point, is that good enough to keep him in the side now that your season is on the line and he has a track record of going missing in finals? With Josh Jenkins sitting on his backside, wasting a year in the twilight of his AFL career, I wonder whether Chris Scott will be tempted to pull the trigger and shake things up.

Or maybe he could drop Stanley and play Blicavs on the wing all day again… he’s tricky like that.

Now, onto Clurey.

In a way he was given the plum job this week – stop the bloke who seems to stop himself in finals, anyway. But that would be discrediting the defensive job he did on Rohan. Without Clurey’s diligence and commitment to the task at hand, Rohan isn’t contained so well.

His stats will not read like anything that impresses people – five touches and one mark, but it is one column that should be noted above all others – zero goals.

For both him and his opponent, and that equates to a job well done.

 

HOW MUCH DO YOU FUCKING LOVE THE PORT ADELAIDE PRE-GAME SINGING?

I may be in the minority, but I love it. I’ve loved it from day one and I think those in charge at Port deserve a huge pat on the back for how this thing has developed over the years.

In a season that has seen our sport played in front of sparse crowds, with little to no fan reaction at times, it was spine-tingling to close your eyes and listen to the Port fans – and this was by no means a full house due to restrictions – belt out ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ as their team prepared for battle.

Sure, there is bound to be a few flat notes, a few thousand out of tune and others slurring their words, but as a footy fan in general seeing the proud, passionate Port fans at the game, singing their hearts out… it certainly warmed mine.

 

ANY QUICK BITS, MONGREL?

How great was Robbie Gray coming in to nail Danger with the tackle immediately after he gave Darcy Byrne-Jones that ripping “don’t argue” fend off? I think it was just all-round great play. DBJ taking Danger on, Dangerfield being right up for the challenge and Gray coming in to assist his teammate. Great footy – finals footy!

 

 

Tremendous courage by Xavier Duursma to run back with the flight and into the path of Mark Blicavs. Whilst some questioned the legitimacy of the mark, I reckon the ump got that one right, but it was the second time Duursma went back with the flight in this game, after putting his body on the line in the first quarter as well.

You have to give some credit to the Geelong defence in locking down on both Charlie Dixon and Todd Marshall. Marshall looked sore all game, and at one point I openly wondered whether Justin Westhoff may have been the better choice (screw it… I still think he is!) but you have to hand it to Sticks Marshall – he got back out there, toughed it out and managed to kick the sealer. Overall, however, the combination of Old Man Taylor and Lachie Henderson were supreme in defence for the Cats.

Sam Powell-Pepper… looked like he ran out of puff, but after that first quarter effort, you can understand why. He was at his bullocking best as he pushed people around, won the footy and laid tackles. I had him as best on ground at quarter time.

 

And that will just about do me – a brilliant win by the Power and a home prelim in the works means that they have every chance to head to the last game of the season. As for the Cats, the only way they can play Port again is if they make the Grand Final, and they made life very difficult for themselves tonight.

 

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