"TO be the best, you have to beat the best."
It is one of the most quoted, most attributed lines in world sport - and for good reason when the theme captures the essence of competition.
It also is the script Port Adelaide faces in this year's AFL top-eight final series in which it carries the No.1 seeding as the league's minor premier - after topping the ladder every week of the 18-round home-and-away season.
So far, Port Adelaide has set up a home preliminary final by beating 2019 McClelland Trophy holder Geelong, one of the best teams of the past decade, at Adelaide Oval during the qualifying finals.
Next, the 2019 and 2017 AFL champion Richmond at Adelaide Oval - for passage to the first VFL-AFL grand final played outside Victoria, at the Gabba in Brisbane on Saturday, October 24.
To be the best, Port Adelaide certainly will need to beat the best.
On the other side of the draw is Brisbane, which already has overcome its hoodoo against Richmond and next has to pass the test against a rampant Geelong in a home preliminary final. For the first time since 2017, the final four is made up with the top four from the home-and-away season. The very best of Season 2020 have made it to last chapters of the "unprecedented" premiership race.
The grand final rematch with Brisbane - to relive the glory of the 2004 play-off at the MCG where Port Adelaide collected its first national league title - is still on the cards.
However, Richmond's 31-point win against St Kilda on the Gold Coast in Friday night's semi-final stops history rewinding to set up a good omen at Alberton. The pathway is no longer the same as 2004 when Port Adelaide overcame Geelong in the home qualifying final at Football Park and then qualified for its first AFL grand final by standing tall in the epic preliminary final against St Kilda at West Lakes.
One script fades away, another theme emerges ...
And the prospect of a preliminary final again delivering more drama than an AFL grand final is certainly in contention with the Port Adelaide-Richmond match-up.
These teams certainly delivered a memorable contest - during a home-and-away season eager for a shift from defensive football - when they met at Adelaide Oval in round 11, in a Saturday twilight match on August 8.
Port Adelaide won, by 21 points - and held Richmond scoreless in the final quarter after the 2019 champions led by one point at the last change.
Three defining notes remain from this encounter that was the first contender for "match of the year".
1) Port Adelaide stood up to an ultimate test - and the doubts created in Brisbane in round 5 when the label "unbalanced" was put against the combination of vice-captain Ollie Wines, former captain Travis Boak, Tom Rockliff and Sam Powell-Pepper in the engine room. Boak finished with a game-high 31 disposals to enter calculations for the Brownlow Medal (that will be awarded on Sunday). Wines set an agenda with 11 tackles - and a phenomenal count of 22 contested possessions - standing tall in his 150th game for Port Adelaide. As a quartet, Wines, Boak, Rockliff and "SPP" amassed 51 - a third - of Port Adelaide's contested possessions, a critical key performance indicator won 155-112 on the team counter. The clearance tally, 40-22, was the indicator that resonated most with Richmond premiership coach Damien Hardwick - particularly with the 20-5 count in Port Adelaide's favour at centre stoppages.
Centre bounce is so important here. It is an easy ground to defend if you get the ball in your front half; it is pretty easy to get numbers behind (the ball). And it (takes) its toll in the end ...
Richmond premiership coach Damien Hardwick
2) Keeping the ball (with Port Adelaide holding possession for 48 per cent of the game time compared with Richmond's 35 per cent in round 11) worked superbly to Port Adelaide's successful strategy of commanding "territory" with the well-noted forward-half game. It also protected a defence that finished the home-and-away season as the meanest in the league (despite external concerns of not having suitable tall defenders to battle the AFL's power forwards). Richmond played the impressive tandem of Jack Riewoldt and Tom Lynch. They were held by captain Tom Jonas, Tom Clurey and Trent McKenzie to four goals, three from Riewoldt - and all four by the eighth minute of the second term. McKenzie dealt with Lynch around the goalsquare; Clurey and Jonas had their tandem around Riewoldt at the top of the 50-metre attacking arc.
You want the big jobs in footy. But it is a team job overall.
I'll probably play the deeper role with Tom Jonas and Tom Clurey sitting a bit higher up. But we'll definitely rotate (on Tom Lynch and Jack Riewoldt)
Port Adelaide key defender Trent McKenzie
3) Richmond assistant coach (and Port Adelaide premiership defender) Adam Kingsley says the round 11 loss to Port Adelaide delivered lessons in both the need to change the premier's gameplan - and how to play Adelaide Oval where Richmond has a 5-8 win-loss record, 3-4 with Port Adelaide. "Clearly," says Kingsley, "Port Adelaide gave us a lesson and we took a couple of important lessons out of that game that we've been able to implement since. It is always tough to play against Port Adelaide - and on a narrow ground like Adelaide Oval you need to be strong in your stoppage work which is not our strength. But we need to get it to a level where we are competing against the best teams." Home-and-away results were turned upside down in the qualifying finals - Port Adelaide rebounded from a 60-point loss in round 12 to beat Geelong by 16; Brisbane overcame the 41-point loss to Richmond in round 10 to win its home final by 15.
Home-and-away form in 2020 is really hard to gauge. These finals games exist in their own vacuum.
Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley
Port Adelaide has a 2-3 win-loss record against Richmond in matches since 2017, most recent first:
Round 11, 2020 Port Adelaide 13.15 (93) d Richmond 11.4 (72) at Adelaide Oval
Round 18, 2019 Port Adelaide 9.9 (63) l to Richmond 15.11 (101) at the MCG
Round 4, 2019 Port Adelaide 14.8 (92) l to Richmond 15.9 (99) at Adelaide Oval
Round 12, 2018 Port Adelaide 10.12 (72) d Richmond 8.10 (58) at Adelaide Oval
Round 15, 2017 Port Adelaide 8.15 (63) l to Richmond 11.10 (76) at Adelaide Oval
Port Adelaide v Richmond
Adelaide Oval. Friday, October 16, 2020. 7.20pm (SA time)
FOR the second time in six years, Port Adelaide and Richmond meet at Adelaide Oval in a knock-out final. In 2014, it was the first AFL final played at Adelaide Oval - and with Port Adelaide taking to the elimination final in the traditional black-and-white bars ... after the AFL made its gaffe of ordering the higher-ranked Port Adelaide team to change its guernsey to avoid a jumper clash with the predominantly black Richmond strip.
Port Adelaide won that semi-final by 57 points after opening with an eight-goal start - with Richmond declining first use of the breeze on winning the toss for choice of ends.
Port Adelaide is playing in its second AFL preliminary final since that encounter. Richmond is in fourth consecutive preliminary final.
Port Adelaide could retain the same 22 from the qualifying final. Forward Todd Marshall has the all-clear, carrying a sprained AC joint after landing on his right shoulder in the first term of the 16-point win against Geelong. Wingman Xavier Duursma has passed the concussion tests after his knock-out from a marking collision with Geelong ruckman Marc Blicavs.
Richmond reported no injury from its 31-point semi-final win against St Kilda - and AFL match review officer Michael Christian has cleared key forward Tom Lynch to play. He copped a $1250 fine ($750 on an early plea), his fifth sanction from the MRO in 2020, for the scuffle with St Kilda and former Port Adelaide defender Dougal Howard. This contentious moment ended with Lynch appearing to drop his left knee onto Howard's neck while he was lying on the ground.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
"There wasn't too much celebrating after the qualifying final win (against Geelong) as we've still got work to do."
Port Adelaide wingman Karl Amon
"Brad Ebert has found his running legs again. Great that he was able to hit the scoreboard again. He's so driven for success over the next fortnight."
Port Adelaide defence coach Brett Montgomery on former vice-captain Brad Ebert
TAKE IT TO THE BANK
(five things we learned in the past week)
1) BOUNCE THE BOUNCE. Field umpire Ray Chamberlain's struggle with the bounce in the centre circle during the Port Adelaide-Geelong qualifying final at Adelaide Oval and again at the Gabba on Saturday night has re-ignited the debate on bounce v throw - with tradition remaining the sticking point. But what changes for the game, in particular the ruckmen, if matches, quarters and restarts after goals go from the bounce to the throw? Port Adelaide premiership ruckman Brendon Lade says: "I loved the bounce - it did not go perfectly straight, so if I was in the right position I would get an advantage on the taller ruckman. So I'd suggest (getting rid of the bounce) would give an advantage to the taller ruckmen when they would always know how high and where the ball was going. The bounce helps the craftier ruckmen."
2) BLACK AND WHITE. Port Adelaide premiership coach Mark Williams can still command a headline when he speaks. His appearance on Channel Seven's Front Bar on Thursday night produced this quote: "On traditional days, against the Crows in Showdowns, we wear (the bars) no worries and be very much proud of the past. But as Port Adelaide has always done, in taking up new challenges, (Port Adelaide wears teal to reflect its future in the AFL)." The bars reserved for the special occasion of all Showdowns; the Lucy Burford teal jumper for other AFL games (minus the Indigenous round and any future matches in Shanghai, China) .... sounds exactly as Port Adelaide is seeking from the AFL Commission.
3) DICEY STRINGS. "Hamstring" remained the most common note on AFL injury lists in 2019 - but less prevalent than in 2018. After the count of games missed to recuperate from hamstring strains jumped to 25.2 for each club in 2018, this average fell to previous annual markers with an 18.5 reading last season. The AFL injury report compiled for the "compressed" 2020 season will make for fascinating debates on the consequence of fatigue, shortened length of quarters and recovery times for players.
4) SHAW THING. South Fremantle claimed the WAFL league premiership - beating Claremont by three points - to perfectly cap its 120th anniversary season (an omen for Port Adelaide in its 150th perhaps). The match also marked the 100-game milestone for former Port Adelaide player Mason Shaw, who completed a double - premiership and WAFL leading goalkicker with the Bernie Naylor Medal (23 goals in the shortened eight-game home-and-away season). Shaw joined Port Adelaide from South Fremantle as the 30th call in the 2012 AFL national draft, but was cursed by injury - broken wrist, osteitis pubis, groin surgery and hamstring strains wrecking his chance to play any AFL matches before being delisted at the end of the 2015 season.
5) NIGHT SHOW. After all the debate on the timing of the AFL grand final - with the tradition of a Saturday afternoon event since 1897 making way for a night finale at the Gabba in a fortnight - it is worth doing an audit on this season's major round: Nine finals, eight at night. The exception was the St Kilda-Western Bulldogs elimination final.
October 15, 1910
Championship of Australia
Port Adelaide 15.20 (110) d Collingwood 7.9 (51)
HISTORY is meant to be rewritten.
Port Adelaide's longest wait in any year to be crowned "national champions" was in 1910 (the 110th anniversary falls on Thursday, the eve of the preliminary final against Richmond). That season closed on October 15.
The SAFL season was not concluded until October 8 when Sturt failed in its challenge to Port Adelaide's claim to the South Australian league premiership.
Sturt had taken the minor premiership - marginally - by percentage (60.01 to 59.57) after finishing equal with Port Adelaide with 11-2 win-loss records in a seven-team league competition. The head-to-head count was 2-1 in Port Adelaide's favour. Port Adelaide opened the season on May 14 with a nine-point win against Sturt at Alberton Oval; backed this up with a four-point win at Unley on August 20; but lost the home-and-away season closer by 12 points at Adelaide Oval on September 10, costing itself the minor premiership.
Port Adelaide dismissed fourth-ranked West Torrens by 16 points in the first semi-final at Adelaide Oval on September 17.
Sturt did not score in the last term of its second semi-final against the fast-finishing but errant Norwood (1.6 in the final quarter) at Adelaide Oval on September 24.
This set up the dream Port Adelaide-Sturt duel for the premiership - with Sturt, as minor premier, holding the original "double chance" provided by the challenge system.
Both teams are confident of success, and a brilliant exhibition of football is expected. On paper ... the Port Adelaide men appear to form the superior side, but it has frequently been proved that this method of judging teams is absolutely erroneous.
Port Adelaide's advantage will be mostly in their smart ground work and their back lines. It is well known what Port Adelaide are capable of, and if they once get in the lead Sturt will find it exceedingly difficult to ultimately conquer them.
Port Adelaide News
Locked at 5.8 each at three quarter-time in the first premiership final on October 1, Port Adelaide won the battle - but not the flag - by four points, 6.13 (49) to 6.9 (45). At the same time, Collingwood beat Carlton by 14 points at the MCG for the VFL premiership.
Port Adelaide settled Sturt handsomely ... although the margin of points was only four in their favour they had the most of the play.
... their well-known tenacity was altogether behind the sudden magnificence of the Double Blues.
Port Adelaide had them at all points of the compass in the last quarter.
Sturt challenged. And lost again - 8.12 (60) to 5.11 (41) at Adelaide Oval on October 8. Port Adelaide had its first "triple crown" with the premiership, "Shine" Hosking awarded the Magarey Medal and Frank Hansen topping the league goalkicking list with 46 goals.
Sturt made a great fight for it, but the magnificence of Port Adelaide withstood all opposition. The Seasiders were always quick to the leather, infinitely more clever on the ground, and had the knack of impressing not only themselves but their opponents with the fact that they were never really beaten.
When things looked black, sheer doggedness always dragged them into the light again. They had to fight every inch of the way, and the honours for 1910 could not be in more worthy hands.
Port Adelaide had its sixth SA league premiership - and third since changing to black-and-white bars in 1902 (the season it did not complete in protest to an umpiring appointment for its first final).
Undoubtedly, the better team won, and Port Adelaide deserved the victory on account of their consistency. They have beaten Sturt on four of the five occasions they have met this season.
Port Adelaide played a characteristic game - full of pluck and assurance, and their dashes at times were truly wonderful. They may be relied upon to uphold the honour of the State in the battle with Collingwood next Saturday.
A week later, Port Adelaide - wearing all black to avoid a clash with Collingwood's black-and-white stripes - claimed its second Champions of Australia title with a telling 69-point win at Adelaide Oval.