Ken Hinkley on Sunday achieves AFL Life Membership after clocking up 300 games as a player and coach.
He had 132 VFL/AFL games as a player (11 at Fitzroy in 1987-88 and 121 at Geelong from 1989-95) to go with three state games for Victoria.
Since then Hinkley has coached Port Adelaide on 164 occasions for 92 wins. His 56.33% home and away winning record plus 50% finals record in six finals is the best of any of Port Adelaide’s AFL coaches, other than the late Phil Walsh’s one win in one game.
Here portadelaidefc.com.au caught up with Malcolm Blight who has coached, coached with and worked with Hinkley at three clubs.
AFL Legend Malcolm Blight knows Hinkley’s story well.
“I think Ken Hinkley is a great story in footy,” he told portadelaidefc.com.au ahead of Sunday’s game against Greater Western Sydney.
“It’s a kid from the country who didn’t quite settle, and then found his feet,” Blight goes on.
“He became a very very good player and found his niche as a coach. He was a young boy from the country who struggled a bit early and then found his way.”
Blight first crossed paths with Ken Hinkley when he was coaching Geelong and the club’s recruiting manager, Stephen Wells, asked him to take a look at a boy from the country who had not quite worked out at Fitzroy.
“He came to me at the end of the ’88 season and said ‘I wouldn’t mind you having a look at a guy who has played a few games at Fitzroy and he just hasn’t quite settled in Melbourne’, Blight continues. He said ‘I’ve seen him a couple of times, would you mind letting him train with you?’
“I can’t remember what happened from there but he obviously did enough to end up on our list.”
Originally a forward at Fitzroy – he even won the 1983 Leading Goalkicker award in the Hampden Football Netball League while playing with Camperdown – Hinkley managed just eleven games in two seasons with the Lions.
He booted 20 goals in ten games in his debut season including bags of four against Essendon and Carlton and five against Sydney.
But for whatever reason, it didn’t work out and he found himself at Geelong playing off half back.
“He was a lightly built half forward. I think he walked past the weight room, he didn’t like going in there,” Blight now jokes about his first impressions of Hinkley.
“In '89 I think he only played one game and he had some injury.
“I could remember doing some goal kicking practice with him and something just tweaked with me. He was ok but he wasn’t taking that next step. He could mark it, he could kick it and he could run a bit but something just clicked with me one day and we actually put him back to the seconds.
“He was only a young bloke and I told him I was going to play him half back behind the ball. I said ‘I don’t care what you do, I want to see you get the footy’ because he just wasn’t getting enough of the ball at half forward.
“I watched him in the twos and he made them look silly – he must have had 40 goes at it.
“It was just a lightbulb moment and I reckon it came on for him as much as it did for me.
“I asked him how he enjoyed that game and he said ‘I don’t want to play in the twos’. And I remember myself saying that to a coach after I got dropped.
“It was just one of those moments, and from then on he became just a super player.”
Blight is full of praise for how Hinkley reinvented himself off half back.
Hinkley would go on to win the club’s 1992 Carji Greeves Medal as best and fairest.
“He was very brave first of all, in the air and on the ground, and he’d go back with the flight well before the intercept mark was even heard of,” Blight says.
“He wasn’t tall and he wasn’t big but he was a beautiful mark in the air and he was brave beyond his size.
“He was also very evasive with a beautiful side step. Once he became that player, he became very confident. He’d read the ball from 80 metres away and just take off, much to the annoyance of some of his teammates who had to cover for him.”
That same year, Hinkley finished third in the Brownlow Medal, three votes behind winner Scott Wynd and amongst a top five which featured Jason Dunstall, Steward Lowe, Darren Jarman and Wayne Carey. (Jarman and Carey tied for fifth with 14 votes each).
But Blight says Hinkley could have won it.
“At worst I thought he should have tied with Scotty Wynd,” Blight says.
“In a game against the Brisbane Bears at Kardinia Park, he had absolutely smashed them to half time.
“He could keep the ball a lot. When 20 was a good game, he was getting 30 off half back and he had a lot of goes at it in this game against Brisbane.
“After half time, let’s just say he was put to sleep in a pretty ordinary incident off the ball and leave it at that, which would have cost him three votes. He was just lining up for them again.
“So given all circumstances he could have been a Brownlow Medallist.”
After playing in his third losing Grand Final in 1995, Hinkley moved into coaching, first in the amateur ranks.
Blight says he hadn’t thought of Hinkley becoming a coach until that point, but the pair stayed in touch and ended up working together again when Blight became coach of St Kilda.
“When you had a conversation with him, he was very positive about what he was saying. Once he became a player he was a very confident young fella and that was how he played.
“You need confidence in gallons to coach. Once he’d finished football and went into the local area and went into coaching, you could see, perhaps by the success he’d had, that he was starting to be that confident person who believed in what he was doing.
“When I got the St Kilda gig, I’d been talking to him on and off and had an eye on him.
“I thought he’d done a good apprenticeship with Camperdown and Bell Park and had some really good success there so I thought he’d be good to take hold of the young guys at St Kilda, and he did.
“He developed some really strong relationships with those guys in a short stint because as soon as I left, he left.”
Hinkley then returned to Geelong as an assistant coach to Mark Thompson in 2004 and was part of the set-up that won the 2007 and 2009 AFL premierships.
Blight and Hinkley worked together one last time at Gold Coast, where Blight was on the board.
“I was keen to get him up to the Gold Coast because I was on the board and with what he’d done at Geelong, going through that Premiership era, I thought his experience would be invaluable to the Gold Coast,” Blight reveals.
“And it was. He developed really good relationships but he also had some tactical nous. He could read the game really well and has a really good feel for the game.
“He’s a modern coach but he liked to have his team playing attacking footy, which I like.”
Blight says Hinkley has his side primed for a tilt at the premiership thanks to some brave decisions off the field and brave footy on it.
A flag would be the perfect addition to what is already – in Blight’s words – “a great footy story”.