BOLD. Ambitious. Proud ... and motivated.
Describing Port Adelaide's objectives and achievements in Season 2020 would focus on the finish - a raw six-point loss to the defending AFL champion in a home preliminary final. There is no escaping the numbing pain carried from Adelaide Oval on Friday night - nor how this bitter disappointment should inspire bolder ambitions at Alberton (as was the case in 1970 when the centenary season was followed by two grand final appearances).
But it is worth reflecting on the start to fully appreciate how far the Port Adelaide Football Club came in 2020, the 150th anniversary season that might not have been with the health concerns posed by the COVID pandemic.
Port Adelaide aimed higher, much higher, in 2020 after becoming seemingly trapped in the AFL's "no man's territory" with no top-eight finals appearance in 2018 and 2019 when the team ranked 10th in each season (12-10 in '18 and 11-11 last season).
A club that had developed the trademark of being inconsistent, demanded more of itself - or, more to the point, sought to deliver exactly as its mantra of existing "to win premierships" expects.
The language certainly changed at Alberton where everyone was challenged to work to grander ambitions.
This club's history is premierships. So, that's what we're starting out to try to do.
We're going to start this year wanting to win the premiership in our 150th year.
We're going to do everything we can to do that.
Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley, February 12, 2020
Perceptions are hard to shake in the AFL. At the start of the season, when it was still to be a 22-round home-and-away campaign from mid-March to late August, Port Adelaide captain Tom Jonas and his team were not commanding the overwhelming faith of their peers.
No AFL captain predicted Port Adelaide to reach the AFL grand final.
There was greater credibility as a finals contender - 10 of the 17 captains expected Port Adelaide to claim a top-eight finish.
The reality, in a season that created challenges with no comparison to any other premiership campaign, is -
MINOR PREMIER for the first time since 2004 - and fourth time this century (after the triple run of 2002-2003-2004),
HOME preliminary final for first time since 2007 - after the first finals win since 2014,
BEST defence in the home-and-away series,
RUNNER-UP to the Coleman Medal as the league's leading goalkicker with Charlie Dixon scoring 32 goals in 16 home-and-away matches,
FIVE All-Australian nominees with three earning selection in the final 20,
ONE Rising Star nominee,
And optimism for more than a one-season rise to stand as an AFL pacesetter and premiership contender.
Since the revival began in Season 2013, this ranks as Port Adelaide's most progressive year. The ultimate goal was not achieved. But Port Adelaide has closed 2020 with its players carrying motivation to take another step towards the summit of the AFL premiership mountain; its members and fans carrying more pride and the 17 rivals in the national league admiring what is building at Alberton.
Someone is going to go past Richmond at some point. We're going to be trying bloody hard to be that team ... There is no doubt we have climbed a mountain; we didn't quite get to the top. We said we were improving and we were coming. We gave it one helluva shot - and we're proud of that.
THREE games that defined Port Adelaide in Season 2020 during the 17-game run to the minor premiership and the two finals:
Round 11 (August 8 at Adelaide Oval), Port Adelaide 13.15 (93) d Richmond 11.6 (72)
Game of the year (before the rematch of the season). Port Adelaide spent much of 2020 looking for credibility - such is the price of being disappointing in previous seasons with inconsistent football. Beating the AFL premier - and leaving Richmond to rethink its game, in particular its set-ups at stoppages and its movement on Adelaide Oval - marked a significant achievement for Port Adelaide. Richmond did not score in the last term (a script many would wish had been saved for the preliminary final at the Oval where the lessons from round 11 were well noted and corrected by the AFL premier).
Round 2 (June 13 at Adelaide Oval), Port Adelaide 17.8 (110) d Adelaide 5.5 (35)
After the 12-week lockdown, Port Adelaide returned to action - with the traditional black-and-white bars jumper - to deliver a 75-point loss to the in-town rival Adelaide. The record books were rewritten with Adelaide held to its lowest score in a Showdown (replacing the 5.14 from the previous derby). The winning margin beat by 10 points, in a game with shorter quarters, the 65-point record from Showdown IX in April 2001. The Showdown Shield stays at Alberton and the derby ledger is now 24-24.
Qualifying final (October 1 at Adelaide Oval), Port Adelaide 9.4 (58) d Geelong 5.12 (42)
Port Adelaide had just one win in its previous six games against Geelong - and the torment of a 10-goal loss to the 2019 minor premier. This 16-point win - against the team with the best AFL record against Port Adelaide - was built on a hard edge, strong defensive systems and a team game that defied a line-up with some of the biggest names and grandest resumes in Australian football. The win marked Port Adelaide's first win in the major round since the 2014 semi-final comeback against Fremantle at Subiaco, Perth.
PLAY IT AGAIN
ONE moment to keep as a lasting memory of Season 2020:
Round 7 (July 19 at the Gabba), Port Adelaide 9.10 (64) d Carlton 9.7 (61)
ROBBIE Gray saves Port Adelaide again ...
Carlton turned a six-point deficit at three quarter-time to a seven-point lead with three goals in the first 14 minutes. Port Adelaide responded with a series of botched forward sorties that created four consecutive behinds from Dan Houston, Charlie Dixon, Robbie Gray and Todd Marshall across seven minutes. But the real drama was still to come.
Brisbane recruit Sam Mayes, playing in his first AFL game since round 14, 2018 and at his old stamping ground of the Gabba, delivered the pass that put Gray on the boundary with a 45-metre shot after the siren. He produced the perfect kick that adds to the legend of one of Port Adelaide's greatest AFL players.
TAKE IT BACK
OF the three losses during the home-and-away season, there was one that put the biggest test for a response:
Round 12 (August 14 at the Gold Coast), Port Adelaide 4.7 (31) lost to Geelong 14.7 (91)
Port Adelaide did not lose consecutive games this season. The first loss, by 37 points to Brisbane at the Gabba in round 5, was followed up by a significant response, particularly in the midfield, against 2019 grand finalist Greater Western Sydney on the road at the Gold Coast. The second loss, by 29 points at home to St Kilda, was followed up by a 51-point mauling of Melbourne at the Gabba.
The third loss was the most painful with another major collapse to Geelong, this time by 60 points on the Gold Coast with seven goals conceded in the last term.
Port Adelaide responded with five consecutive wins, including the season-closing 16-point win against Collingwood in Monday NightFootball at the Gabba. Port Adelaide not only ensured it commanded top position at the end of every round of the home-and-away season, it also proved it was ready to stand up in finals.
FIVE Port Adelaide players were nominated for All-Australian selection: Former captain Travis Boak for the fourth time; current captain Tom Jonas, key forward Charlie Dixon, midfielder-forward Zak Butters and defender Darcy Byrne-Jones, all for the first time.
Boak was selected in the final 22 for his third All-Australian crown and was named vice-captain while commanding centre. His second placing to Brisbane midfielder Lachie Neale in the Brownlow Medal count is further testament to Boak's grand season.
Dixon, at centre half-forward, and Byrne-Jones, at half-back, earned their first All-Australian honours.
TRENT McKenzie was delisted by Gold Coast at the end of 2017 after playing 106 games as an inaugural squad member for the expansion franchise in south-east Queensland. The long-kicking left-footed defender in 2020 established himself as a reliable cog in the key defensive roles shared with captain Tom Jonas and Tom Clurey.
McKenzie earned a two-year contract extension late in the season.
McKenzie played 17 AFL games this season, his highest tally in the national league since 2015. Back spasms - that flared in the warm-up in the mid-season clash against St Kilda - cost McKenzie a much-deserved complete season.
ALL three of Port Adelaide's three first-round picks from the 2018 AFL national draft averted the "second-year blues" to successfully follow up their impressive debut years.
Connor Rozee, pick No.5, played 16 AFL games while being held up by a foot injury. His preliminary final work against Richmond - that included two goals - was a stand-out pointer to upgrade the predictions on his future as a premier midfielder.
Zak Butters, pick No.12, played 17 games, losing two by suspension for a high bump against North Melbourne midfielder Jy Simpkin in round 16. The midfielder-forward's reputation grew this season with his eagerness to play uncompromising, fearless football.
Xavier Duursma, pick No.18, played 15 games - and launched the arrow seven times. His courageous defensive play in a marking contest with Geelong ruckman-wingman-forward Mark Blicavs during the qualifying final tells of his willingness to be more than a wingman who blitzes in open space with his speed.
THREE players wore the Port Adelaide jumper in AFL league games for the first time this season.
AFL debut: Round 1 v Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium. Played seven games, kicked 8.6
Port Adelaide's high-flying forward (pick No. 18, 2019 national draft) quickly showed why so many at Alberton were excited by the West Australian's prospects. He earned a Rising Star nomination in round 9 after throwing himself into practically every aerial contest inside-50 against Melbourne while kicking three goals. His long-term prospects might be extended to the midfield.
AFL debut: Round 10 v Western Bulldogs at Adelaide Oval. Played five games, kicked 3.3
After slipping from the senior list (pick No. 76, 2018 national draft), the aggressive small forward advanced from the rookie list (pick No. 32, 2019 rookie draft) by stepping up - particularly his running capacity with strong training efforts during the pre-season and COVID lockdown.
Port Adelaide AFL debut: Round 7 v Carlton at Gabba. Played six games.
And what a start - the goal assist for the Robbie Gray moment after the siren that gave Port Adelaide the three-point win against Carlton. It was Mayes' first AFL game since round 14, 2008 when he took his career tally with Brisbane to 101 matches. Mayes, a top-10 draftee in 2012, added depth to the Port Adelaide list during the 2018 trade period bringing to Alberton his experience and flexibility as a defender-midfielder. His block of six games was interrupted by serving a one-match ban for a bump on Western Bulldogs midfielder Josh Dunkley in round 10.
BRAD EBERT, after 184 AFL games and five SANFL league matches with Port Adelaide (and 76 AFL matches on being drafted by West Coast). The former vice-captain ended his dedicated service to his family club with his final act underlining his courage when he successfully spoiled Richmond key forward Jack Riewoldt in a head-jarring marking contest late in the preliminary final.
JUSTIN WESTHOFF, after 280 games - from pick No.71 in the 2006 AFL national draft. The most versatile player of his generation leaves the AFL with the 2018 John Cahill Medal as the Port Adelaide club champion and a Showdown Medal from the first derby in 2011.
JACK WATTS, after 21 games in two seasons after joining Port Adelaide from Melbourne. His final two years at Alberton were wrecked by the serious leg injuries suffered against Carlton in round 2, 2019 while building confidence in the role of a key defender.
CAM SUTCLIFFE returned to South Australia in 2019 - after playing 104 AFL games with Fremantle - to lead Port Adelaide in the SANFL. By mid-season, the midfielder had earned the right to be drafted to the AFL list from where he played nine national league games - four this season.
In the lead-up to the finals series, Port Adelaide delisted Geelong recruit Wylie Buzza, four-game midfielder Joe Atley, forward Tobin Cox and defender Riley Grundy.
AUSTRALIAN football - in particular the broadcasters who have taken a greater hold on the game's agenda in recent times - learned this year with empty venues how much poorer the AFL is without the fans.
Port Adelaide's true believers made the 53,500-capacity Adelaide Oval seem full when COVID protocols allowed 2500, 10,000 or 25,000 to AFL games in the city. For this commitment to supporting the team, everyone in Australian football was handed a timely reminder this game is built on the passion of the fans.
The power of the fans was underlined by the rendition of The Never Tear Us Apart anthem that echoed around Adelaide Oval on Friday night in the lead-up to the first bounce of the preliminary final.
FEBRUARY 28. It seems so long ago, more so after the longest "short" season in the game's history. Port Adelaide opened the 150th party with a black-tie gala event that premiership captain Warren Tredrea regards as the best evening ever organised by his club.
Port Adelaide completed the pre-season by beating two of the 2019 top-eight finalists - Brisbane by 21 points at Moreton Bay on February 23 and the Western Bulldogs by 10 points at Whyalla on March 7.
BY THE NUMBERS
Played: 19 matches (14-3 in home-and-away, 1-1 in finals)
Scored: 183.185 (second on home-and-away scores)
Conceded: 138.129 (best defence in home-and-away)
Ranking: minor premier (third after finals)
Leading goalkicker: Charlie Dixon (34)
Leading disposals: Travis Boak (23 average)
Leading kicks: Dan Houston (12.41 average)
Leading handballs: Travis Boak (11.53 average)
Leading contested possessions: Ollie Wines (10.65 average)
Leading marks: Trent McKenzie (4.41 average)
Leading contested marks: Charlie Dixon (2.56 average)
Leading tackles: Tom Rockliff (6.25 average)
Leading hit-outs: Scott Lycett (23.53 average)
Leading clearances: Travis Boak (5 average)
Leading inside-50s: Travis Boak (4.16 average)
Leading goal assists: Zak Butters (15)
Leading score involvements: Robbie Gray (5.26 average)
Leading rebounds: Trent McKenzie (3.65 average)
Leading intercepts: Tom Jonas (5.58 average)
Season 2020 is to be always considered a year "outside the norm" - a premiership chase that does not carry an asterisk but a star to acknowledge the extraordinary demands placed on everyone.
But there is reason to reflect on how neither the top-ranked Port Adelaide nor second-placed Brisbane advanced from home preliminary finals to the grand final. There will be more focus on the pre-finals bye.
Since the break between the home-and-away season and major round was introduced in 2016 (the season in which the Western Bulldogs rose from sixth to the flag), the qualifying final winners have a 4-6 win-loss records in preliminary finals. It was 17-1 in the nine seasons before the bye was added to the football calendar.
COVID protocols - with all AFL teams forced into "biospheres" - led to the AFL forcing Port Adelaide to remove itself from the SANFL. For the first time since the league shut down for three seasons during World War I, Port Adelaide had no involvement in the State league of which it is a founding club (1877).
NOTHING is certain in AFL football except the theme that those who stay idle - or get comfortable - are quickly overtaken by teams with more ambition and a stronger work ethic. So Port Adelaide knows there is much more still to be done to deliver another AFL premiership flag to the collection of hard-earned trophies at Alberton.
But there is ambition - and optimism.
"We have a lot of the pieces we need; there is so much growth," says Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley. "I'm optimistic about our football club; it's going to be a very good football club.
"I said last year, if you can't see the positivity in Port Adelaide, you're not looking. You have to be able to see it - and know that we have got it and we have just got to work hard to get back here again."
IT began with plans for a big party for the 150th anniversary - and the dream of the club's 38th and 39th premierships.
So many of the celebrations were lost by the COVID pandemic. The SANFL campaign never began. The AFL premiership race started, stopped and resumed with Port Adelaide proving its intent by staying top from start to finish when the AFL home-and-away season was cut from 22 games to 17 and quarters trimmed from 20 minutes to 16.
Amid extraordinary challenges, so much was achieved - and it will be said Port Adelaide gave all it had to chase its major goal of the AFL premiership. It was knocked out of the race by one of the best-performed teams (and clubs) of the past four years.
In the end, the greatest recognition of Port Adelaide's progress is expressed externally from Port Adelaide premiership player and Richmond premiership coach Damien Hardwick who has built his own dynasty at a proud club that also had to rediscover its ambition:
They (Port Adelaide) are an incredible side. I absolutely love the way they play. They're a side to really fear. They way they move the ball, the way they back their players in, they're going to be a very side for a long period of time. They're a formidable outfit - well coached, well drilled; a wonderful team, a really wonderful team.