WHAT do you get for "winning" the AFL minor premiership? A bronze image of Dr William C. McClelland, a former VFL president, on a rectangular wood panel.
Port Adelaide has three of them - 2002, 2003 and 2004 (a record matched only by West Coast among the non-Victorian AFL clubs). It is favoured to win a fourth this season, more so if Port Adelaide downs Geelong, the current holder of the honour, at Metricon Stadium on Friday night.
Since 1991, with the rebadging of the expanding VFL to the AFL, the McClelland Trophy has been awarded to the best-performed team in the home-and-away series. Previously, in line with the Stanley H. Lewis Trophy in the SANFL, the McClelland was from 1951 handed to the VFL club collecting the most points as allocated for wins in league, reserves and under-19 matches.
There is no prize money, despite AFL Commission chairman Richard Goyder in 2018 endorsing the thought of cash bonuses to brush away the apathy towards the McClelland Trophy. This is certainly off the agenda now, particularly with the cash-strapped AFL cutting prize money in the top-eight final series in October.
There is no bonus allocation to a minor premier's salary cap, as has been suggested.
There is no bonus draft pick.
At best, the minor premier is favoured - slightly favoured - when assigning start times for finals, in particular the preliminary final. And there is the McClelland Trophy to hang on the wall.
Season 2020 - the year of the unprecedented - offered the chance to change this, if only with a one-off. The AFL minor premier should have the right to declare where the grand final is to be played on Saturday, October 17 now that the MCG is off the agenda.
The AFL would get the much-needed four or five weeks to prepare for the event of the season.
The minor premier would get a meaningful reward, even if it just becomes a prize for its chosen venue - and some pride for its home or host city.
Of the contenders, Port Adelaide would declare its desire for Adelaide Oval; Brisbane would opt for the Gabba; Greater Western Sydney has the stadium with the biggest capacity, the 2000 Olympics venue next door to its home at Homebush; West Coast would pick Optus Stadium ... and the Victorian candidates, such as Richmond, Geelong, St Kilda and Collingwood, would need to think carefully. It is an uneven playing field, but it can be the same way at the MCG too as every non-Victorian knows so well.
This season, more than most others, the debate on the grand final venue and the merit of the minor premiership has more in play than ever before.
A football result - minor premier picks the grand final venue - seems right.
But there is always a bigger agenda in the AFL.
Does Queensland - and by extension Brisbane, the city and club - get rewarded for saving the AFL with hubs that allowed the season to unfold?
Does Perth win out because it has the newest stadium - and the chance to put on a "traditional" 2.30pm grand final that would unfold from 5.30pm on the eastern seaboard ... a groundbreaking twilight grand final with bonus television ratings?
Does Adelaide get the honour of becoming the first city outside Victoria to host a VFL-AFL grand final since the event began in 1897 because Adelaide Oval is the best venue, particularly for atmosphere created by Port Adelaide fans?
Finally, the McClelland Trophy could be more than just an honour - at least for 2020.
Geelong v Port Adelaide
JUST when you thought it was safe to go back into the water ...
After beating AFL premier Richmond at Adelaide Oval on Saturday to prove it is a contender and not a pretender, what more could there be for top-ranked Port Adelaide to prove?
It is a week-by-week game, however. And standing at Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast on Friday night - with no lifeguards to warn what is in the waters - awaits a supercharged Geelong that is primed to secure a top-four finish for the 11th time in 14 seasons.
Port Adelaide made a statement in standing firm against Richmond on Saturday evening. Geelong issued a warning in dismissing St Kilda at the Gabba on Monday night. And the AFL gets a stunning match-up in Friday Night Football as an encore to the match of the season from Adelaide Oval.
Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley's willingness to load up his team for attacking football is matched by Geelong mentor Chris Scott's eagerness to keep the scoreboard turning over. Both teams load up with inside-50s - Port Adelaide aiming to Charlie Dixon; Geelong to Tom Hawkins.
In the shortened games (with 20 per cent less game time by the 16-minute quarters), Geelong and Port Adelaide rank first and third for goals scored (118 and 113 respectively). Accuracy denies Port Adelaide the top ranking considering it has averaged 21 shots with scores this season; Geelong has averaged 19.
While the numbers on the Port Adelaide and Geelong charts are similar, the engines in each line-up do get differing reviews. Geelong has the Brownlow Medallist Patrick Dangerfield and captain Joel Selwood carrying elite tags; Port Adelaide has vice-captain Ollie Wines and the evergreen Travis Boak delivering impressive results.
Hinkley, a former Geelong player and assistant coach, faces his former club for the 10th time as Port Adelaide's senior coach. He and his match-day staff do face some tests beyond the usual.
Tactically, Geelong premiership coach Chris Scott made St Kilda rethink the pre-game decision to stand down veteran ruckman Patrick Ryder to leave the impressive Rowan Marshall to work solo against the Rhys Stanley-Mark Blicavs tandem ... the one that has Scott place Blicavs on a wing and Stanley advance to the goalsquare. He gets to work this concept again after not calling up Esava Ratugolea at selection, despite forecasting the return of the relief ruckman-forward.
Hinkley has his own twists to work to advantages, either by mismatches from his busy crew of wingmen Xavier Duursma, Karl Amon, Kane Farrell and Zak Butters or the new ruck tandem of Scott Lycett and the goalscoring Peter Ladhams.
Big games, such as this top-of-the-table encounter, always bring attention to the big names: Boak, Dangerfield, Wines, Selwood, Dixon, Hawkins, Gray, Guthrie .... But who will emerge from playing his role to being an influential factor on a game that could swing on a mismatch?
THE FINAL CUT
HAS Port Adelaide, with its ninth win from 11 games, become the first team to qualify for the AFL's top-eight finals with six matches to play?
Last season - with 22 rounds to the home-and-away qualifying season - the cut-off to holding eighth spot after 17 matches was nine wins. So it would seem practical to assume Port Adelaide, particularly with a league-best percentage, is finals bound for the first time since 2017.
The VFL began with 17 rounds in 1897 and kept this qualifying theme until the end of 1907. The last time the league had a 17-round home-and-away series in 1925, the season the VFL admitted three new teams - VFA entities Footscray, North Melbourne and Hawthorn - to expand the league to 12 teams.
There was a final four, with the cut-off at 12 wins for Collingwood that lost the grand final to Geelong. Had there been a final eight, South Melbourne would have qualified with a 6-11 win-loss record.
With no 2020 fixture on the fridge, many Port Adelaide fans do not have at their fingertips just who is left to play in this truncated season of one-off games in the minor round. Port Adelaide's dance cards are still to deal with Geelong (this week), Collingwood, Essendon, Hawthorn (that will be in round 13 at Adelaide Oval), North Melbourne and Sydney.
From this pack, three are genuine finals contenders - Geelong, Collingwood and Essendon. The statisticians are predicting Port Adelaide will finish the 17-round qualifying period with a 13-win count claiming the minor premiership on percentage from Brisbane - followed by St Kilda, West Coast, Richmond, Geelong, Greater Western Sydney and Collingwood.
But with "everything changing every five minutes" this season, it is one game at a time (more so than one week at a time).
TWO unforced changes at Alberton - restoring Brisbane recruit Sam Mayes to the defence after he was forced to the sidelines by the AFL match review officer Michael Christian and the recall of midfielder-forward Steven Motlop to his former Geelong team-mates.
It is a like-for-like adjustment with Mayes' return to defence forcing Jarrod Lienert out of the 22 again and Motlop casting out Cam Sutcliffe from the midfield rotations.
Motlop missed four games after suffering an ankle injury early in the last quarter at the Gabba during the dramatic last-kick win against Carlton on July 19. His return to work as a midfielder and as a goalscorer inside-50 eases the continued absence of second-year player Connor Rozee (heel).
Port Adelaide will work the Scott Lycett-Peter Ladhams tandem for the second consecutive game.
Still on the sidelines are former vice-captain Brad Ebert and half-back Ryan Burton (hip).
In: Mayes, Motlop
Out: Lienert, Sutcliffe
WORKING on a four-day turnaround - two less than Port Adelaide - Geelong coach Chris Scott is managing two players, St Kilda recruit Jack Steven and rookie-listed small forward Brad Close.
This ushers the return of midfielder Lachie Fogarty and half-forward Sam Simpson, who were "managed" out of the commanding win against St Kilda on Monday night.
Scott avoided - despite his pre-selection forecast - a recall of Fijian-born Esava Ratugolea to create a target in attack, relief in ruck for Rhys Stanley and to release Mark Blicavs to work in defence. Ratugolea misses his third consecutive match.
In: Fogarty, Simpson
Out: Close, Steven
(the little stuff that counts most)
Where: Metricon Stadium
When: Friday, August 14, 2020
Time: 7.20pm (SA time)
Last time: Port Adelaide 9.13 (67) d Geelong 8.8 (56) at Adelaide Oval, round 14, June 22 last year
Overall: Port Adelaide 10, Geelong 22, one draw
Past five games (most recent first): W L L L L
Scoring average: Port Adelaide 82, Geelong 101
Drawn game: Port Adelaide 10.18 (78) drew with Geelong 12.6 (78) at Football Park in round 10, May 13, 2000
Tightest winning margin - Port Adelaide by four points (116-112) at Football Park in round 10, May 30, 2004; Geelong by one point (70-69) at Kardinia Park in round 14, July 6, 2003.
Biggest winning margin - Port Adelaide by 75 points (129-54) at Football Park, round 8, May 18, 2002; Geelong by 119 points (163-44) at MCG, grand final, September 29, 2007.
By venues - Adelaide Oval (2-3), Football Park (6-1-5), Kardinia Park (2-12), MCG (0-2).
By States - South Australia (8-1-8), Victoria (2-14).
W W W L W W L W W W W
GREATER accuracy at the goalfront on Saturday - during the biggest test of the season, so far - would have had Port Adelaide achieve its highest score of the year. Ignoring shots that strayed out of bounds, the 28 scores for 13.15 (98) against Richmond at Adelaide Oval surpassed the 25 in the far more accurate 17.8 (110) scored against Adelaide in Showdown XLVIII on June 13.
Port Adelaide is not only in strong form in attack, but also defending with manic pressure - and not just in the back half. The three consecutive wins against Melbourne, the Western Bulldogs and Richmond have played out in differing ways but with one common theme: When challenged, be it to tests posed by rivals, injuries, external judges and even the footy gods, Port Adelaide has responded again and again. And it all begins with the midfield commanding the contests - the truest winning formula in football today.
W W L W L W W W L W L
GEELONG'S form line since the mid-point of last season to round four this year was a string of W-L-W on repeat in a way that would impress a DJ at a nightclub - 18 games with no successive win, no consecutive losses.
This changed from rounds 4-6 with a run of three wins against Melbourne by three points at the MCG, Gold Coast by 37 points at Kardinia Park and Sydney by 27 points at the SCG.
And then inconsistent transmission was resumed on entry to Perth with Geelong losing to Collingwood by 22 points, winning the wet-weather game against Fremantle by 32 points and then falling to West Coast - and Nic Naitanui and Josh Kennedy - by nine points.
In the past fortnight, Geelong has beaten North Melbourne by 33 points at the Gabba and sent a strong message with the 59-point win against a top-rated St Kilda at the Gabba. The W-L sequence is broken ... and the AFL's most-consistent team of the past decade is making itself heard in the premiership debate.
GEELONG has sent some extraordinary footballers to Alberton - none more famous in converting blue-and-white hoops to black-and-white bars than Tim Evans.
Originally from the Penguin Football Club in Tasmania's North West Football Union, Evans played 59 VFL games with Geelong from 1971-1974. He kicked 26 goals - and defended many more as a half-back.
Evans arrived at Port Adelaide in 1975, the second season of the John Cahill reign, to strengthen the defence at centre half-back. But an "experiment" in a night game at full forward - plus the uncertainty on key forward Randall Gerlach's future as he battled kidney issues - prompted one of the master refits by Cahill.
By the end of his 232-game career at Port Adelaide in 1986, Evans had:
REWRITTEN the SANFL season scoring record with his 146 goals in 1980 (surpassed by Sturt great Rick Davies at 151 in 1983 and Port Adelaide hero Scott Hodges with 153 in 1990),
CLAIMED the record of most goals for Port Adelaide with his 1019
TOPPED the SANFL goalkicking chart six times (1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1984)
PUT his name in gold letters on the Port Adelaide honour board as the leading goalkicker 10 times.
EARNED the full forward role in the Port Adelaide Greatest Team, 1870-2000.
WON the first Ken Farmer Medal as the SANFL leading goalkicker in 1981.
CRACKED the ton for the first time in 1980, the first Port Adelaide player to kick 100 goals in a season.
When Port Adelaide was determined to keep winning SANFL premierships while building its AFL program - between December 1994 and the start of the 1997 season - the strong recruiting campaign lured the Malakellis brothers from Kardinia Park to Alberton.
Spiro and Tony Malakellis combined to play their part in Port Adelaide's 1995 SANFL premiership triumph.
Tony was in Port Adelaide colours for 70 SANFL senior games from 1994-1998, playing in the 1994-1995 premiership double - and was runner-up in the 1994 Magarey Medal count won by Norwood legend Garry McIntosh. His journey from Geelong (14 games from 1990-1992) included a detour to Sydney in 1993 for five AFL matches.
Spiro played 17 SANFL league games with Port Adelaide from 1995-1997 after making his mark in 67 VFL-AFL matches with Geelong from 1989-1993.
A Geelong recruit - Shayne Breuer - has his name immortalised at Port Adelaide as the club's first goalscorer in an AFL premiership match - and at the MCG - against Collingwood in March 1997.
The notable exports to Kardinia Park are Geelong premiership captain Tom Harley, the "raging bull" Dwayne Russell - and the extraordinary Tom Quinn, the older brother of Magarey Medallist Bob.
Quinn, a member of the Port Adelaide 1928 premiership side, is in the Geelong Team of the Century in recognition of his success in 168 VFL games as a player and his three seasons from 1946. He was twice the Geelong club champion, 1936 and 1937.
QUOTES OF THE PRE-GAME
"Oh yeah, yeah ... (Port Adelaide) are a very exciting team. They're one of the teams I enjoy watching. They have good balance. It is a very interesting list. They have nine players aged 29 or older and they have a group of kids who are exciting. Those older players are playing well - they are having really good years."
Malcolm Blight, Australian Football Hall of Fame legend.
"Port Adelaide's ability to win the contest and their injection of young players has added a spark. They play a really good game style which will pose a threat to us."
Nigel Lappin, Geelong assistant coach
"We're happy with the year we're having, but we know we are nowhere yet. The success of the football club is not one season. It's not 12 games. It is long-term success we are striving for."
Ken Hinkley, Port Adelaide senior coach
Port Adelaide by 11 points.