Now that Richmond has stopped eating its own, with pleasantly surprising results, a new champion of self-cannibalism has announced itself.
When Port Adelaide won their first premiership in 2004 coach Mark Williams diverted for a moment in his victory speech to address the owner of the club’s major sponsor, who had said that the Power would never win a flag while Williams was in charge. “Allan Scott,” he roared, “you were wrong!”
OK, so that was just a little self-nibbling around the edges, forgivable in the circumstances.
So let’s turn to a darker hour, Saturday night and the immediate aftermath of Port’s heart-breaking, season-ending, extra-time defeat by West Coast. Speaking to a supporters’ function soon afterwards, chairman David Koch fumed at the players, saying they failed to play with composure and to instructions, were unreliable in big moments and were not all intent on winning premierships. Down the president’s hatch the players went, bite by bite.
Some regurgitation is necessary here. They lacked composure? No more than the chairman who when needed to bite his tongue instead ran off at the mouth (this is getting messy). They did not play to instructions? Yet somehow, they actually were in front when the final, final siren sounded.
They are playing for themselves, not the cause of a Port premiership? Perhaps Port do have their doubts about some on their list. But by naming none, Koch tarred them all. Even as he was speaking, Channel 7 was showing poignant images of shattered and inconsolable Port players collapsing into the arms of family. There was not a hint of the detachment Koch alleged. To infer a chronically indifferent and debilitating attitude from a post-siren defeat is unfair.
Koch noted that Port had fielded a young side, and said the jury was out on that decision, so without even being certain himself if it was strictly all the players fault he smashed them anyway. See lack of composure, above.
On Monday, Koch went for more, saying Port had blown it. Perhaps they did, but first they won it, recovering from six goals behind to lead by two, twice. From there, you might regret poor kicking at goal, or a lax moment at a stoppage, or even what an umpire saw, which was what everyone else saw, live. Coach Ken Hinkley noted all this. That’s footy.
But here’s less palatable truth. In such a close finish, after such a long and gruelling battle, luck plays as big a role as any other factor, perhaps bigger. As in a penalty shoot-out in soccer, random rules. Replayed two dozen times, that last stoppage might have come out two dozen different other ways. It was Luke Shuey’s good luck, and Jared Polec’s bad, that it turned out this way. Even then, Shuey might have missed; how drastically different would the reviews have been then?
It is not something you have or will read much in the retrospectives, which are adjusted and massaged to explain this and only this outcome. Footy people don’t like admitting that any small detail is out of their control, because it diminishes them as controllers. Koch was speaking like a man desperately trying to appear to be in control, and so losing it. But you do have to wonder how shoving this cruel defeat back down the throats of the players will go down with them and Hinkley in the long run.
Koch can bang on all he likes about the wretchedness of the Port players, but the fact is that he was only one breath and one heart-beat away from banging on instead about next week and GWS and onwards and upwards. Generally, Koch has been good for Port, but the best thing he could have done on Saturday night was to shut up.
Koch should know by now that unlike his true area of expertise, footy – thankfully – doesn’t conform to precise formulae. “If you look at successful AFL clubs,” Koch said on Monday, “it’s all based around the stability of the coach, stability of chief executive, and a board, and a leadership group within your playing group.”
Um, Richmond, end of 2016, Kochie?