ONE of the telling traits of great clubs, teams and players is how they behave - and respond - amid adversity.
Those that rebound after being left flat on the canvas do so because they are clear in their thinking and in their resultant actions.
Port Adelaide cannot be labelled a "bad football club" on the basis of a disastrous home preliminary final at the weekend. Bad football clubs/teams do not win 17 of 22 home-and-away games or beat a finals-hardened unit such as Geelong in a qualifying final.
But football clubs quickly turn bad if they react in the wrong way to a 71-point defeat in a home preliminary final - to a Western Bulldogs team that had held the No.1 or 2 ranking for most of the season. They shoot themselves in the foot - and there are many classic examples in the AFL recently.
The damage begins when many of the external post-mortems start to resemble witch-hunts rather than meaningful assessment of a club, a coach, a team and a performance that was so against the trend in a season of significant achievements.
Bad clubs respond to flawed arguments.
Some of the analysis is even contradictory. Such as: "Port Adelaide could not beat top-four sides during the home-and-away season", suggesting it over-reached in making a preliminary final. But (in the same breath) this also is a team that "burned a premiership". How can it be an over- and under-achiever at the same time?
For much of the home-and-away season, Port Adelaide could not break into the top-four of the power rankings of the AFL's best and loudest analysts. Some had written off Port Adelaide at round 12. But this Port Adelaide team finished second with a 17-5 win-loss record by defying a disruptive injury count and endless questions on its merit as a top-four contender.
Port Adelaide created an opportunity that many thought was beyond Ken Hinkley's team (revisit the betting markets at the start of the top-eight finals series) - and that hard-earned and promising opportunity slipped in a way that irritates and frustrates every Port Adelaide supporter who accepts defeat only when every human endeavour has been exhausted.
Why Port Adelaide would deliver its worst performance when it had created its best chance since 2007 to play in an AFL grand final requires the most clinical - and least emotional - review.
And then there always are double-edged swords in every analysis that comes with assessing one bad performance.
"Port Adelaide was already thinking of the grand final". There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance.
The understanding that there was a job still to be done was emphasised by senior coach Ken Hinkley on Friday: "You don't get lulled into a false sense of security.
"We have earned the right to be where we are. We have worked really hard, trained really well in the past seven to eight days - and the boys are ready to play. So we now have to execute ..."
The performance seemed far away from a team that was better prepared for its second consecutive preliminary final at home - against a Western Bulldogs team that seems very capable of being the best team of Season 2021.
Why? Port Adelaide fell short in the midfield. This preliminary final gives clarity in what is lacking in the most critical part of a football team. The promise of Willem Drew - in that much-needed role of keeping an opposition midfielder under control - is well noted. So is the resume of 34 AFL games ...
At the start of the year, the question of what is lacking on the Port Adelaide list was answered with - more midfield depth and a second go-to forward to ease the focus and defensive tactics on All-Australian key forward Charlie Dixon.
The answers may well come in the development of Connor Rozee as a midfielder and Rising Star-nominated teenager Mitch Georgaides as a forward. And there always are options in the trade market where Port Adelaide has not struggled to make the case as a "destination club".
The greatest test of Port Adelaide today is to understand what happened in the preliminary final - and to act appropriately. It is a result that cannot be dismissed nor should it prompt an over-reaction.
But balance is a challenge in a game loaded with emotion. If Port Adelaide was a good club on September 10 it certainly did not become bad on September 11. But it will become bad from September 13 onwards by losing clarity.
Former Port Adelaide chief executive Keith Thomas recently reflected this challenge when revisiting the more challenging moments since the revival began at Alberton in 2013.
"Every time the pressure builds I think back to those meetings Ken, (club president) David (Koch) and I would have, particularly during 2015-16," Thomas said. "We would lean on the line used at Geelong when they were about to end their 44-year premiership drought in 2007: 'Stay the course'.
"It takes time to build a powerhouse in a demanding competition like the AFL."
Take note of Melbourne ....