PORT ADELAIDE coach Ken Hinkley says he is optimistic about the future of his club despite admitting it missed an opportunity with Friday night’s Preliminary Final loss to Richmond.
The sides went toe to toe in a brutal and tightly fought game in wet conditions at Adelaide Oval before the Tigers held on for a six-point win.
The 6.10 (46) to 6.4 (40) loss was a disappointing finish to an incredible campaign by Hinkley’s men, who sat top of the ladder from round one and finished with the minor premiership, only missing a Grand Final by one straight kick.
“If you were in our rooms, you’d see the pain in those players. What they give every week to come from where we’ve come from this year,” Hinkley said in his post-match press conference.
“We’ve climbed a mountain but unfortunately we didn’t quite get to the top.
“It’s a missed opportunity no doubt and you have to work really hard to get another one, as we know.”
No side could break the game open with the biggest margin just ten points.
Despite the disappointment, Hinkley said he was proud with the way his charges took it to the reigning Premier.
“They’ve been the top side for a reason and were never going to give it away but our blokes gave it one hell of a shake,” he said.
"We said we were improving and we were coming, (and) we didn't get to quite where we wanted to go, but we gave it one hell of a shot.
“You know to get there (win a premiership) you’ve got to go past Richmond at some point, someone is going past Richmond at some point and we’re going to be trying bloody hard to be that team.
“We weren’t quite ready to (do that), but if you look at the game there will only be little bits you know they had the upper hand and they got hold of it when they needed to and that’s why they’re in their next Grand Final.”
Hinkley lamented his side missing some good chances in front of goal and said the Tigers were cleaner and took their opportunities.
And he refused to blame an umpiring decision against Hamish Hartlett late in the game that led to a Richmond goal for the loss.
Hartlett was deemed to have flicked the ball out of bounds deliberately when it appeared he was attempting to get the ball to teammate Tom Rockliff.
“The umpires paid it, I’m not going to judge the umpires. It’s a high-pressure game,” Hinkley said of the decision.
“It hurts but we lost the game, it wasn’t one play and I never sit there and get too focussed on one decision.
“Everyone will because it’s in the last quarter, they get a goal from it and it’s a six-point margin but it’s a hard game to umpire.”
It was the second Preliminary Final Port had lost under Hinkley after the heartbreaking loss to Hawthorn but he was able to see the positives in his side and its future including the starring performances from second-year players Connor Rozee (14 disposals, five tackles, two goals) and Xavier Duursma (19 disposals, two tackles and a goal).
“They were pretty good, weren’t they?” he said.
“I’m optimistic about our football club, our football club is going to be very good and it hurts a bit tonight (Friday) but there is some optimism and it’s not just those three who everyone talks about - the young players across our team.
“I said last year ‘if you can’t see the positivity in Port, you’re not looking’, you’ve got to be able to see it and we’ve just got to work hard to get back there again.
“I know it (2014) hurt, this one hurt too, but every prelim is this type of game and the conditions made it even more combative,” he said.
“But you’ve got to risk the hurt and we did, we risked the hurt.”
Port played most of the game down a man with Ryan Burton injuring his quad but he went and sat forward to help with rotations.
Brad Ebert also took a heavy knock late in the game while flying courageously back with the flight to prevent a mark inside defensive 50 and had to be helped from the ground.
It turned out to be his last act in AFL football with the 30-year-old retiring and leading the team off the ground in emotional scenes.
He joins veteran Justin Westhoff in retirement with the 34-year-old announcing ahead of the finals that 2020 would be his 14th and last season.
The loss means there will be no fairytale for the club in its 150th anniversary year.
Ebert and the club are expected to formally announce the veteran's retirement in the coming days.