PORT ADELAIDE no longer is free of the blowtorch that burns in the postmortems of AFL matches.
It was inevitable after Saturday night's top-of-the-table clash with Brisbane - win, lose or draw.
Had Port Adelaide won at the Gabba, to remain the league's only unbeaten team, all 17 rivals would have put Ken Hinkley's playbook under the microscope in search of the key to a team that did appear different than previous models.
And in defeat, a 37-point loss from a five-goal, nine-minute blitz in the second term, Port Adelaide will feel the heat it has not known for almost a year.
It comes with the territory.
Just as inevitable as this fall-out from a disappointing result will be the questions of Hinkley and his staff, breaking the silence that came from the 4-0 start.
The Port Adelaide coaching staff set up the game plan to - in chess parlance - put the "check" against Brisbane from the first centre bounce. The first quarter should have set up a considerable advantage from this plan - but 1.6 from a dominant count of 13 inside-50s is the classic example of shooting your own foot.
Brisbane coach Chris Fagan and his staff adjusted at quarter-time, particularly the midfield set-ups to ensure Lachie Neale and his crew was working to equal numbers against the Port Adelaide battery.
"We adjusted around the footy ...," said Neale.
This was, to continue the chess theme, Brisbane's "checkmate" response.
But Neale also added this: "And (we) got to work." Neale and his midfield mates rolled up their sleeves and turned back their blue collars.
And there is the key in a sport that too often is overloaded with reviews of what coaches do in a small glass chamber in the grandstand rather than how the players act on the field.
Brisbane's midfield won the game by working harder where it counted most.
The multi-dimensional Brisbane attack enjoyed the supply - and put the Port Adelaide defence under intolerable pressure.
The disciplined Brisbane defence found relief.
Players do indeed win matches ... more so than coaches.
The biggest question for the Port Adelaide midfield is: Where was the response? The admiration heaped on vice-captain Ollie Wines and his battery in the past fortnight - in adjusting to wet conditions against Fremantle and coping against West Coast's stoppage wins - falls away to questions on why there was no reaction under pressure on Saturday night.
Nine minutes changed a football game. But there were still another 39 to play ...
This shortened "home-and-away" season of 17 rounds (rather than 22) that will take more time to play than any other premiership campaign now enters another "unprecedented" phase of more hubs. The AFL is looking more and more like tournament play at a World Cup qualifying series ...
Brisbane 12.13 (85) d Port Adelaide 6.12 (48)
HISTORY does repeat. However, the "replays" sometimes are not the ones everyone expected ... and some hoped for.
Saturday night at the Gabba was to have rolled back time to 2003 for a re-run of the tightest of all the Port Adelaide-Brisbane matches during the epic four-year duel at the top of the AFL ladder at the start of the 21st century. That memorable one-point game on a night when both teams broke the watershed 100-point barrier. And both coaches - Mark Williams and Leigh Matthews - aged 10 years, one for each of the lead changes in the dramatic last quarter.
Instead, the time machine went back to a grim Sunday twilight moment at the Gabba - round 7, May 17, 2015. That letdown ended in a 37-point win for Brisbane (then ranked 16th and far from a measuring stick in the 18-team national league) - and one of the longest and darkest nights for a team postmortem that went beyond midnight.
Snap ... 37 points again. More questions are to be asked of Port Adelaide, particularly when it is put under pressure at the contest. But this time, Brisbane is the team worthy of carrying the "pacesetter" title.
And Port Adelaide?
For 16 minutes - and time-on - in the shortened first quarter, Port Adelaide had Brisbane on the back foot. Problem was the feet the Port Adelaide players were using for their eight shots to finish off their superior count of 13 inside-50 entries - 1.6, plus an out-of-bounds on the full from key forward Charlie Dixon after he was loaded up by small forward Robbie Gray.
Brisbane scored 2.1 on limited supply that was forcing key forward Daniel McStay to venture to the wings for his marks.
Already there was one notable warning bell: If Brisbane did get the ball moving forward quickly from centre breaks, it would be a very tough night for Port Adelaide defenders Tom Jonas and Trent McKenzie in dealing with the taller McStay and Eric Hipwood.
That 1.6 at quarter-time - along with a one-point deficit - did not give Port Adelaide the scoreboard comfort it needed to absorb the momentum swing that was coming.
Brisbane's refit of its midfield - to ensure it was playing to equal numbers rather than being tested by the extra man Port Adelaide had at the contests - made a big difference.
Five unanswered goals - from five Brisbane players - in nine minutes from the start of the second term had any hope of revisiting the epic 2003 encounter at the Gabba completely shot.
At this point - with Brisbane in front by 31 points (that would become 50 in the third term) - Dixon was leading the tackle count for Port Adelaide with four (after a season total of three in his previous three games).
On a night when the umpires were under new instructions to reward tackling, the Port Adelaide midfielders could not/did not physically harass their Brisbane opponents. Former captain and 2019 club champion Travis Boak can be excused - he was at least winning the ball.
The fall-out was glaring by the numbers - and telling on the scoreboard, the best statistics keeper in the game. After 13 inside-50s in the first quarter, Port Adelaide managed just another 23 in the next three terms - for a season low of 35. There were just four marks taken in this zone where Brisbane started the night double-teaming Dixon and crowding his runway.
The final score of 6.12 - with just one goal from the triple-treat combination of Dixon-Todd Marshall-Justin Westhoff - marks Port Adelaide's lowest count of the season and lowest since the 5.11 posted in the home loss to the Western Bulldogs at Adelaide Oval more than a year ago (June 29, 2019).
And there should be no surprise that the Port Adelaide defence conceded its biggest score of the season, 12.13 - to a Brisbane team that does play the game as it should be played.
The AFL competition is once again hearing a lion roar in the jungle.
QUOTE OF THE POST-GAME
"We adjusted around the footy and got to work.
“We did a few structural things. They had an extra around the ball, so we made it equal numbers. We sent our wing around, so we didn’t have a skinny wing – which is on the defensive side of the stoppage – we brought him to play on their wing just to even up the numbers around there because they were getting us through the corridor with that extra number. It really helped us.
“We’re a really good team when its equal numbers, so we matched them inside and we were able to give our forwards an opportunity and they took advantage of it.”
Brisbane midfielder, Lachie Neale
TAKE IT TO THE BANK
(Five things we learned in the past week)
1) MUSHROOM SEASON. Hubs - once dismissed as an extreme measure, a worst-case scenario - are now to emerge as the only way to keep the AFL season finding its way to a meaningful conclusion. Every Victorian-based team is to be moved north and west (but not to South Australia by State government veto). The consequences to the game's strained balance sheet will be significant - and the damage will extend well beyond the elite AFL to hinder Australian football in a critical and traditional heartland. Even more concerning is the threat to so many lives in Victoria by the COVID pandemic.
2) IT IS 2020. Matt Rowell ... there is no need for any more proof that this season is determined to annoy. The thud heard during the first half of Saturday evening's Geelong-Gold Coast match when the game's best first-year player had his right shoulder dislocated on hitting the turf at Kardinia Park was more than matched by the groan from football lovers across the nation. Yes, it is 2020.
3) OLD NORMAL. Just three months ago, while everyone had much time to contemplate the consequences of the COVID pandemic, Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett wanted unity and his Collingwood counterpart Eddie McGuire spoke a collegiate theme among the 18 AFL clubs. A month of competitive football has restored the "old normal" - and it is not just about bitter rivalries on the field. Certainly McGuire is becoming the weekly platform for supersize headlines - and a litmus test for how all he preaches on his media stage does not always play out on his presidential agenda at Collingwood.
4) DOUBLE TROUBLE. While John Kennedy and David Parkin fashioned a successful succession plan for a coach and his apprentice in the mid-1970s, the transition theme has not caught on ... as well noted with the failed "partnership" at Collingwood with Michael Malthouse and Nathan Buckley almost a decade ago. But at 3-1, Essendon might be changing the script with the John Worsfold-Ben Rutten tandem.
5) LIKE PRIMUS. Two decades ago, Port Adelaide lead ruckman Matthew Primus was so dominant - and strong enough to carry his team-mates on his shoulders - that then AFL chief executive Wayne Jackson had the laws of the game changed to dull Primus' power. Today, it would take a mean-spirited administrator - and a very sharp opponent - to stop West Coast ruckman Nic Naitanui. While Sydney did not have a grand ruckman to put against Naitanui at Metricon Stadium on Saturday afternoon, this should not diminish the admiration of Naitanui's deft and creative tap work. He finished with 39 hit-outs, short of his personal best of 50 against Richmond at Subiaco Oval in round 18, 2014 (a match West Coast lost by 17 points despite winning the hit-outs 79-39).
It is the Port Adelaide Football Club's 150th anniversary season ... a note that can be easily lost amid so many distractions in a demanding year filled with unexpected (and, of course, unprecedented) challenges. So it is worth doing some reminders and thinking out aloud on what might be in the next month ...
Next Tuesday (July 15) marks 150 years since club secretary R W J Leicester gave notice of a meeting at the club house at 8pm for members to learn of "important business".
Port Adelaide is on the doorstep to reflecting on critical moments from 150 years ago ...
JULY 30 - First competitive match (v Young Australian at North Parklands that ended in a 1-1 draw).
As tough as AFL executive Travis Auld has it with the rolling league fixture, could he work the opportunity for Port Adelaide to host a Thursday night match at Adelaide Oval on July 30? And against whom? Young Australian, like Port Adelaide, wore blue and white in 1870. So is it Carlton, Geelong or North Melbourne for an opportunistic 150th anniversary match?
Port Adelaide v Greater Western Sydney
Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast
12.35pm (SA time), Sunday, July 13, 2020
For the third consecutive week, Port Adelaide plays a 2019 top-eight finalist - this time losing grand finalist Greater Western Sydney on neutral territory on the Gold Coast. Can there be a better test for the Port Adelaide midfield when it is challenged to respond?