SOME clubs set the bar at making AFL finals. Port Adelaide prefers to speak of playing in the biggest final of all - and winning premierships.
It should not be lost on anyone that Port Adelaide this season reaffirmed the "f" word that means the most at Alberton is flags not finals.
Port Adelaide knows it measures up as a top-eight finalist this season (after falling short in the past two seasons). Where it stands in the premiership race has changed in the space of just six days.
"Real deal" on beating 2017 and 2019 AFL premier Richmond with near-complete midfield dominance while dictating the pressure at Adelaide Oval last Saturday.
Real work to do this week after falling short to 2019 minor premier Geelong - particularly in the midfield - on Friday night while recording the club's first loss on the Gold Coast on a night Metricon Stadium was to have become the "Portricon".
The contrast in the two matches - and the results - could not have been more stark.
Inevitably, so will be the answers when Port Adelaide is judged on its rightful place in this year's challenging premiership race.
Port Adelaide will stay in top position at the end of round 12 with a 9-3 win-loss record.
The three losses - to fellow top-eight sides Brisbane, St Kilda and Geelong - turn on one key note: Failing in the critical ball-winning contests. It happened in the second term against Brisbane at the Gabba in round 5; it was notable in the second half against St Kilda at Adelaide Oval in round 8; and it played out from the start on Friday night when Brownlow Medallist Patrick Dangerfield won the first centre clearance ... and Geelong picked off all three centre clearances and eight of 10 stoppages in the first term.
By the end, Port Adelaide conceded its biggest score of the year - 14.7 (91).
It put up its lowest score of the season - 4.7 (31) after not creating a score in the first term.
The 60-point loss overtakes the 37-point margin from the Brisbane defeat as the biggest gap in Port Adelaide's 12 games this season.
And when it became 54 points in the 20th minute of the last term on Lachie Fogarty scoring Geelong's 12th goal, Channel Seven commentator Bruce McAvaney asked the question that will echo: "Can a team lose credibility on one night?"
Once again, Port Adelaide is challenged to respond. The impending answer will define Port Adelaide as a finalist ... or as a genuine premiership contender. Not in question is what Port Adelaide wants to be.
Port Adelaide 4.7 (31) lost to Geelong 14.7 (91)
NO snapshot of this "grand final preview" is more telling than the scoreboard tally from the power forwards - Charlie Dixon (Port Adelaide) and Tom Hawkins (Geelong) - and how the ball played to them.
Hawkins, 10 marks (nine inside 50m).
Dixon, two marks (none within the attacking arc).
"It's a product of what happens up the field ... (that sets up) a lot of one-on-ones," said Hawkins who took seven contested marks while generally working against one defender, usually Tom Clurey.
On social media, from his Twitter account, Norm Smith Medallist Brian Lake offered the advice: "Always play Hawkins on the back shoulder (from behind)."
Clurey, captain Tom Jonas and fellow defender Trent McKenzie might respond slowing up the supply to Hawkins also helps.
Up the field, Geelong played to the greatest script in football - time and space. The sweet movement from defence to Hawkins was precise. By contrast, Port Adelaide was forced into rushed kicks - not perfect kicks - on a Gold Coast arena that seemed to get smaller and smaller, more and more crowded. The team that was so well connected against Richmond six days earlier was dismantled by a Geelong team that set up big advantages from the moment Brownlow Medallist Patrick Dangerfield won the first centre clearance.
The pressure game Port Adelaide used to torment Richmond stared back at Ken Hinkley's players from a Geelong unit that overwhelmed every rival by being "well organised".
"They cleaned us up," Hinkley said. "They beat us in the air and on the ground."
"Stripped of the ball," as Hinkley put it. Denied space to work the ball into better positions. And with too many players unable to impose themselves in the match while former Port Adelaide captain Travis Boak continually sought to resist the overload from Dangerfield, Cam Guthrie, Sam Menegola, Tom Stewart ... and Hawkins.
Port Adelaide did not score in the first term - more to the point, Geelong conceded the rushed behind at 22.04 of the first term.
Port Adelaide's first goal was not until 11.58 of the second term from lead ruckman Scott Lycett. It was Port Adelaide's only goal of the first half. The strangling of an attacking-minded team was as impressive as Geelong's quick-fire plays to Hawkins.
Port Adelaide has lost for the first time in 10 premiership matches at Carrara - and fallen with a heavy seven-goal slap in the last quarter to bring to the table questions on how to measure Hinkley's crew in this challenging premiership race.
Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.
This defeat should sting but not stifle Port Adelaide's ambitions that at the start of the year were clearly defined as chasing the premiership and not just playing in finals.
Port Adelaide lost four premiership points on Friday night - it did not lose the premiership. Nor did Geelong win the flag. The two teams might not meet again this season ... but if they do, the Port Adelaide players will need to reach far deeper.
Hawthorn premiership winner Jordan Lewis underlined the contrast highlighted in great Hawkins-Dixon scorecard: "Port Adelaide looked second rate; Geelong are playing the best football they've played all season."
Port Adelaide finishes the "Festival of Football" with a 3-1 win-loss record in the matches against Melbourne, the Western Bulldogs, Richmond and Geelong. The three wins gave Port Adelaide credibility as a top-eight side. The 10-goal loss to Geelong challenges Port Adelaide's title as the "real deal" in the premiership race.
The response in the remaining five home-and-away games - against Hawthorn, Sydney, North Melbourne, Essendon and Collingwood - will test the "resilience" label Ken Hinkley put on his players after the Richmond win.
QUOTE OF THE GAME
"Don't put a line through Port Adelaide - this is one game. I still think they will go deep (in the finals race)."
Hawthorn premiership hero Luke Hodge
TAKE IT TO THE BANK
(five things we learned in a "normal" week)
1) FESTIVAL ENCORE. After 33 games in 20 days, the close to the shortened home-and-away series from rounds 14-18 will not be so compressed for Port Adelaide. The second-last installment on the complex fixture has Port Adelaide from August 29 to September 12 in a routine of repetitive Saturday football in the pre-final stretch. There also is a bye. There are at least two games at Adelaide Oval (against Sydney in round 14 and Essendon in round 17) taking the season tally to seven and the prospect of this becoming eight with the round 18 finale against Collingwood. Season 2020 will be remembered for Port Adelaide playing no game in Melbourne or Sydney and no home-and-away match in Perth (where there could be an appointment during the finals). At best, the 17 home-and-away games would be split with eight at home at Adelaide Oval and nine in south-east Queensland.
2) DRAW A CONCLUSION. Gold Coast and Essendon delivered the second draw of this shortened AFL season, following the Collingwood-Richmond tie in round 2 - the game that restarted the race after the 12-week shutdown. The total number of drawn games in VFL-AFL football - since the first with the 43-43 tie between Fitzroy and South Melbourne at Brunswick Street on June 22, 1897 - is now 160. And for those who still argue a game needs a result, a draw is a result. A clearly defined result.
3) BRUTALLY HONEST. Whoever thought player interviews at half-time were destined to be rehearsed - and therefore meaningless - had to think again on Thursday after hearing Greater Western Sydney captain Stephen Coniglio during the main interval of the "Battle of the Bridge" derby with Sydney in Perth. He said: "Hopeless, really. We've got to get in there and find an answer. We've been in this position twice in two weeks and we've got to find our way out. I just think they want it more than us. When you look at the contest ... they're carving us up with the ball going forward and it's simply not good enough."
4) STRANGE TIMES. A Sydney derby is played in Perth. On the advertising boards at Perth Stadium are messages from the Victorian State government appealing to its people to stay home in line with the COVID lockdown. This is 2020.
5) GONE, NOT FORGOTTEN. Traditionally, August delivers from AFL House the much-anticipated audit of club membership sales. Along with crowd figures, membership numbers reflect the commitment of fans to their clubs. But this year has kept the majority of fans at home while stadiums have been opened with varied levels of restricted access to comply with COVID health orders. Most importantly, the majority of members have kept their financial commitment with their clubs despite missing out on the game-day rituals at their team's home ground. Geelong coach Chris Scott did deliver the quote of the moment saying: "Members right across the AFL have stood by our clubs; that has been phenomenal in these times. If they had not stuck fat, we'd all be in dire trouble."
Port Adelaide v Hawthorn
Saturday, August 22, 4.05pm (SA time)
SIR Doug Nicholls Round, with the AFL's only remaining theme round celebrating indigenous culture and the grand contribution indigenous players have made to Australian football.
Port Adelaide returns to Adelaide Oval where it will acknowledge the 62 indigenous men who since 1891 have been chosen to represent the club. The first was Harry Hewitt, who was named in the back pocket for Port Adelaide's clash with VFA giant Fitzroy at Adelaide Oval in August 1891 - a match the "Magentas" won 4-2.
The most recent indigenous player to make his start at Port Adelaide - in black, white and teal - is 2017 AFL national draftee (No. 60 pick) Joel Garner with his national league debut in round 9 last season against Gold Coast.
Established in 2007, the indigenous round has not featured Port Adelaide at home since 2013 when Port Adelaide hosted Geelong at Football Park, West Lakes in a Saturday afternoon match. Jake Neade designed the jumper - that celebrated the emu that serves as the totem of the Jingili language group from Neade's home in the Northern Territory - and Port Adelaide wore it twice, first in the indigenous round and the following week against the Western Bulldogs in Darwin.
Originally planned as a Hawthorn home game in Launceston - hence the white "clash" base to the Port Adelaide jumper - this match allows Port Adelaide to host Alastair Clarkson's team for the first time since June 1, 2017 in what became a remarkable Thursday night clash at Adelaide Oval. Port Adelaide held Hawthorn scoreless in the first quarter and goal-less in the first half before winning by 47 points.
From the injury list, Port Adelaide should have former vice-captain Brad Ebert adding to the selection mix. However, defender Ryan Burton (hip) might need another week on the sidelines and be denied a rematch with his former Hawthorn team-mates.
THURSDAY marks the 150th anniversary of Port Adelaide's second competitive game - the rematch with the short-lived Young Australian Football Club (also formed in 1870).
After the 1-1 draw on the north parklands (opposite where Adelaide Oval stands today), the Port Adelaide Football Club called its blue-and-white rival to Buck's Flat at Glanville - and developed its first tradition by engaging the Port Artillery Band.
"Should the weather prove favourable there will no doubt be an interesting game," the Express and Telegraph newspaper forecast, perhaps knowing there was a sandstorm brewing.
"There were 15 players on each side, and Messrs. H. Y. Sparks, and F. Stone acted, respectively as captains. Play commenced about 3 o'clock, the Young Australians winning the toss, and electing to kick with the wind, which was exceedingly strong throughout the afternoon.
"The first goal was scored by Conigrave for the Young Australians, after a hard contest. The goals, having been changed, the Portonians secured the wind and in about a quarter of an hour J. Wald managed to rise the ball through the goal for them. The ends were, again changed, and the game continued till sundown with increased spirit, the play of the Portonians being particularly good.
"No other goal however, was scored. There was a large attendance of visitors and the Port Adelaide Artillery Band added greatly to the, pleasure of the meeting."
The battle would resume on September 10.