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Geelong and Port Adelaide followed very different paths after 2007

Victors: Geelong players celebrate their 2007 AFL grand final win.

Victors: Geelong players celebrate their 2007 AFL grand final win. Photo: Joe Armao

Forks in the road of football history don’t come a lot sharper than those which followed the events of AFL grand final day in 2007.

In Geelong against Port Adelaide, the premiership play-off pitted an establishment club, which had gone without a flag for 44 long years, against one just 10 years old but which had already reached the summit just three seasons earlier.

But what should have been an epic battle instead became a monumental mismatch, one which would subsequently send the Cats and the Power along two very different paths. They are roads which, with the two sides meeting on Sunday as the top two teams on the AFL ladder, have taken seven years to intersect once again.

For Geelong, the premiership drought broken, grand final day 2007 would be the heralding of the club’s greatest era, one still as strong as ever. The Cats have won three flags over their magnificent journey, further successes coming in 2009 and 2011. They’ve played in four grand finals, and have finished first, second or third every season bar one.

But grand final day 2007 was a disaster for Port. It would be thrashed by a record grand final margin of 119 points. It would manage two miserable goals for the entire second half. Nor would there be any redemption in 2008. The Power would win just seven games for a dismal finish of 13th. And things would get even worse.

Midway through 2010, Port Adelaide sacked coach Mark Williams. Yet by the end of 2011, under a favourite son in Matthew Primus, it had won just three games, finishing above only the debutant Gold Coast franchise.

By the time 2012 had concluded, Primus, too, had been sacked and Port Adelaide was a rabble, beset not only by poor performance, but financial woes, poor attendances and administrative chaos.

Geelong has a staggering winning percentage of 80.4 per cent since its 2007 triumph, having won 123 of 153 matches. Football manager Neil Balme doesn’t hesitate when asked if he would have believed back then that things would still be going so well now.

''Jesus, no. I mean you always hope that, but reality tells you you’d probably be kidding yourself,'' he says. There’s been no secret formula, though, he adds. Just hard work, good coaching and good recruiting. ''I think we all realised it was going to be difficult to stay up, but we were very committed to not going backwards.''

Which in statistical terms, is exactly what happened to Port after the 2007 grand final. Its winning percentage of 36.7 since is in stark contrast to the Cats, a figure which at least has risen significantly over the past season-and-a-bit under Ken Hinkley, its revival one of the great football stories.

Yet it’s one, argues Port football manager Peter Rohde, who sat in the coaching box the day of that excruciating mauling, that has been a long time in the making. In some respects, as far back as 2007, when the Power line-up that made the big dance was seen by the club more as one enjoying a ''last hurrah'' than the basis of its future.

''We probably ended up dipping a lot lower than we thought we would, but at the end of 2007, we looked at our list and knew we had to start blooding a lot of younger players,'' he says. ''Obviously, the way we lost the grand final was a part of it. We were arguably the second-best team in the competition, but when you looked at it, our key players were ageing. We’d had a good year based on [Warren] Tredrea, Chad Cornes, Peter Burgoyne, Brendon Lade and these guys who were getting towards the ends of their careers.

''We had Travis Boak and Justin Westhoff, and Robbie Gray had played a few games, but they weren’t key players. Whereas you looked at Geelong and apart from Matthew Scarlett, they really won on the back of Ablett, Bartel, Enright, Corey, Johnson, Mackie ... that was the real scary bit, that they were still quite young.''

The 2014 lists support Rohde’s argument. There’s still seven of that 2007 Geelong team there – Joel Selwood, Jimmy Bartel, Corey Enright, Steve Johnson, James Kelly, Andrew Mackie and Mathew Stokes. Port has five – then greenhorns in Boak, Westhoff and Tom Logan, along with veterans now in Dom Cassisi and Kane Cornes.

But the talent supplementing that group continues to grow. After earlier drafts delivered the likes of Hamish Hartlett and Jasper Pittard, the last three national drafts have seen Port pick up potential superstars in Chad Wingard and Ollie Wines.

The Power has also been able to pick the eyes out of other clubs' high draft picks, Brad Ebert, Angus Monfries and Jared Polec all coming from previous AFL homes, having been originally taken with first-round selections.

Port Adelaide has turned over far more players than have the Cats over the past seven years in the search for a winning formula. A total of 51 new players have represented the Power at senior level since that losing 2007 grand final, Geelong’s total only 36, half-a-dozen of whom have already become premiership players.

That, says Balme, is due in no small part to list manager Stephen Wells and his recruiting team, plus the work of an army of assistants beyond senior men Mark Thompson then Chris Scott, Hinkley himself one of them.

''We’ve been lucky to have people like Kenny, Brendan McCartney, Brenton Sanderson and Leigh Tudor. They’ve all been very good teaching and development coaches.''

Indeed, Hinkley’s capacity to get through to his younger charges at his new club with a list the Power insisted was better than its dismal results prior to last season indicated, does beg the question: was Port Adelaide so scarred by the 2007 grand final thrashing it sent the team and a club into a spiral from which it would take years to recover?

Rohde isn’t as convinced as others, but concedes: ''If you look back at the history, it’s hard to argue there wasn’t some scarring.'' Perversely, however, the extent of Geelong’s dominance in the '07 premiership decider did serve as a handy example to the side it beat up on about how to build a list.

''We lost a lot of players from when we won the premiership in 2004 to about 2010. Over the next few years we’re not going to lose nearly as many through age and retirement,'' says Rohde. ''We think we have a core group which we’ll get 100 games into, and which will stay together for a few years, which, if you look at the Geelong model, is the way you want to do it.''

Time will tell whether Port Adelaide, after some major stumbles along the way, now has the group, and in Hinkley the coach, who can give it not just another fleeting grand final appearance, but a sustained shot at success.

In the meantime, the paths of the Power and Geelong having collided once more, Sunday’s clash between the top two teams represents a wonderful litmus test of just how far Hinkley’s side still has to go.

''We’re really looking forward to it,'' says Rohde. ''First versus second at Adelaide Oval in the first six weeks of the season is more than we could have dreamed for from a PR and team point of view. We realise we’re still a fair way behind Geelong in lots of areas, so if we can perform well against them, it’s another step along the path. Probably 12 months ago, we were a bit daunted by these sorts of challenges, but to develop and improve, these are the games you have to play in, do well and eventually win.''

Even victory, of course, can’t change what happened back in 2007, but having plumbed the depths since that horrible afternoon, Port Adelaide would at least be able to boast that it’s back playing with the big boys again.

HuffPost Australia

AFL 2016

Round 1
Thu, 24 MarTimes shown AEDT
RIC vs CAR 19:20MCG
Sat, 26 MarTimes shown AEDT
MEL vs GWS 13:40MCG
GCF vs ESS 16:35MS
NTH vs ADE 19:25ES
SYD vs COL 19:25ANZ
Sun, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
WBU vs FRE 13:10ES
PTA vs STK 15:20Adelaide Oval
WCE vs BRI 19:40Domain Stadium
Mon, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
GEE vs HAW 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 01 AprTimes shown AEDT
COL vs RIC 19:50MCG
Sat, 02 AprTimes shown AEDT
ADE vs PTA 13:45Adelaide Oval
ESS vs MEL 14:10MCG
BRI vs NTH 16:35G
STK vs WBU 19:25ES
FRE vs GCF 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 03 AprTimes shown AEST
GWS vs GEE 13:10SO
HAW vs WCE 15:20MCG
CAR vs SYD 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 08 AprTimes shown AEST
PTA vs ESS 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 09 AprTimes shown AEST
STK vs COL 13:45MCG
RIC vs ADE 14:10ES
SYD vs GWS 16:35SCG
GCF vs CAR 19:25MS
WCE vs FRE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
NTH vs MEL 13:10BA
WBU vs HAW 15:20ES
GEE vs BRI 16:40SS
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 15 AprTimes shown AEST
WCE vs RIC 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 16 AprTimes shown AEST
ESS vs GEE 13:45MCG
HAW vs STK 14:10AS
BRI vs GCF 16:35G
CAR vs WBU 19:25ES
ADE vs SYD 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
GWS vs PTA 13:10SO
COL vs MEL 15:20MCG
NTH vs FRE 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 22 AprTimes shown AEST
HAW vs ADE 19:50MCG
Sat, 23 AprTimes shown AEST
SYD vs WCE 13:40SCG
GCF vs NTH 16:35MS
WBU vs BRI 19:25ES
PTA vs GEE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
STK vs GWS 13:10ES
FRE vs CAR 16:10Domain Stadium
MEL vs RIC 19:10MCG
Mon, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
COL vs ESS 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 29 AprTimes shown AEST
NTH vs WBU 19:50ES
Sat, 30 AprTimes shown AEST
MEL vs STK 13:45ES
ADE vs FRE 14:10Adelaide Oval
GWS vs HAW 16:35Spotless Stadium
RIC vs PTA 19:25MCG
GEE vs GCF 19:25SS
Sun, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs SYD 13:10G
CAR vs ESS 15:20MCG
WCE vs COL 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 06 MayTimes shown AEST
RIC vs HAW 19:50MCG
Sat, 07 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs CAR 13:45MCG
GEE vs WCE 14:10SS
SYD vs ESS 16:35ANZ
GCF vs MEL 17:10MS
WBU vs ADE 19:40ES
FRE vs GWS 20:10Domain Stadium
Sun, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
STK vs NTH 15:20ES
PTA vs BRI 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 13 MayTimes shown AEST
ADE vs GEE 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 14 MayTimes shown AEST
ESS vs NTH 13:45ES
HAW vs FRE 14:10AS
GWS vs GCF 16:35Spotless Stadium
BRI vs COL 19:25G
RIC vs SYD 19:25MCG
Sun, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs PTA 13:10ES
MEL vs WBU 15:20MCG
WCE vs STK 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 20 MayTimes shown AEST
HAW vs SYD 19:50MCG
Sat, 21 MayTimes shown AEST
COL vs GEE 13:45MCG
GCF vs ADE 14:10MS
PTA vs WCE 16:35Adelaide Oval
NTH vs CAR 19:25ES
FRE vs RIC 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
MEL vs BRI 13:10MCG
GWS vs WBU 15:20Spotless Stadium
STK vs ESS 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 27 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD vs NTH 19:50SCG
Sat, 28 MayTimes shown AEST
BRI vs HAW 13:45G
MEL vs PTA 14:10TIO Traeger Park
STK vs FRE 16:35ES
ESS vs RIC 19:25MCG
ADE vs GWS 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR vs GEE 13:10ES
COL vs WBU 15:20MCG
WCE vs GCF 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 03 JunTimes shown AEST
NTH vs RIC 19:50BA
Sat, 04 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs MEL 13:45MCG
CAR vs BRI 14:10ES
GEE vs GWS 16:35SS
GCF vs SYD 19:25MS
FRE vs ESS 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs PTA 13:10MCG
WBU vs WCE 15:20ES
ADE vs STK 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 10 JunTimes shown AEST
ESS vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 11 JunTimes shown AEST
PTA vs WBU 13:40Adelaide Oval
BRI vs FRE 16:35G
GEE vs NTH 19:25ES
WCE vs ADE 19:40Domain Stadium
Sun, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
STK vs CAR 13:10ES
RIC vs GCF 15:20MCG
GWS vs SYD 16:40Spotless Stadium
Mon, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
MEL vs COL 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 17 JunTimes shown AEST
NTH vs HAW 19:50ES
Sat, 18 JunTimes shown AEST
BRI vs WCE 13:40G
FRE vs PTA 16:35Domain Stadium
WBU vs GEE 19:25ES
Sun, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
SYD vs MEL 13:10SCG
ESS vs GWS 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Thu, 23 JunTimes shown AEST
ADE vs NTH 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 24 JunTimes shown AEST
COL vs FRE 19:50MCG
Sat, 25 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC vs BRI 13:40MCG
GWS vs CAR 16:35Spotless Stadium
STK vs GEE 19:25ES
Sun, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
HAW vs GCF 15:20AS
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Thu, 30 JunTimes shown AEST
WCE vs ESS 20:10Domain Stadium
Fri, 01 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs RIC 19:50Adelaide Oval
Sat, 02 JulTimes shown AEST
GCF vs STK 13:40MS
SYD vs WBU 16:35SCG
CAR vs COL 19:25MCG
Sun, 03 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs ADE 15:20MCG
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Thu, 07 JulTimes shown AEST
PTA vs HAW 19:50Adelaide Oval
Fri, 08 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs SYD 19:50SS
Sat, 09 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs COL 13:40Spotless Stadium
GCF vs BRI 16:35MS
WBU vs RIC 19:25ES
MEL vs FRE 19:40TIO
Sun, 10 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs ADE 13:10MCG
WCE vs NTH 15:20Domain Stadium
ESS vs STK 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Thu, 14 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs HAW 19:20SCG
Fri, 15 JulTimes shown AEST
FRE vs GEE 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 16 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC vs ESS 13:40MCG
NTH vs PTA 16:35ES
WBU vs GCF 19:25CAZ
ADE vs COL 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 17 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR vs WCE 13:10MCG
STK vs MEL 15:20ES
BRI vs GWS 16:40G
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 22 JulTimes shown AEST
COL vs NTH 19:50ES
Sat, 23 JulTimes shown AEST
SYD vs CAR 13:45ANZ
GCF vs FRE 14:10MS
WCE vs MEL 16:35Domain Stadium
WBU vs STK 19:25ES
GEE vs ADE 19:25SS
Sun, 24 JulTimes shown AEST
ESS vs BRI 13:10ES
HAW vs RIC 15:20MCG
PTA vs GWS 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 29 JulTimes shown AEST
GEE vs WBU 19:50SS
Sat, 30 JulTimes shown AEST
GWS vs RIC 13:45SO
HAW vs CAR 14:10AS
COL vs WCE 16:35MCG
BRI vs PTA 19:25G
NTH vs STK 19:25ES
Sun, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL vs GCF 13:10MCG
FRE vs SYD 15:20Domain Stadium
ADE vs ESS 16:40Adelaide Oval
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 05 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC vs COL 19:50MCG
Sat, 06 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD vs PTA 13:45SCG
MEL vs HAW 14:10MCG
GCF vs GWS 16:35MS
WBU vs NTH 19:25ES
ADE vs BRI 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 07 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR vs STK 13:10MCG
GEE vs ESS 15:20ES
FRE vs WCE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Fri, 12 AugTimes shown AEST
WBU vs COL 19:50ES
Sat, 13 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI vs CAR 13:45G
HAW vs NTH 14:10MCG
GWS vs WCE 16:35Spotless Stadium
STK vs SYD 19:25ES
PTA vs MEL 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 14 AugTimes shown AEST
ESS vs GCF 13:10ES
RIC vs GEE 15:20MCG
FRE vs ADE 16:40Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
Round 22
Fri, 19 AugTimes shown AEST
WCE vs HAW 20:10Domain Stadium
Sat, 20 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH vs SYD 13:45BA
RIC vs STK 14:10MCG
GWS vs FRE 16:35Spotless Stadium
COL vs GCF 19:25ES
PTA vs ADE 19:40Adelaide Oval
Sun, 21 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR vs MEL 13:10MCG
BRI vs GEE 15:20G
ESS vs WBU 16:40ES
View All Fixtures
Round 23
Sat, 27 AugTimes shown AEST
HAW vs COL 12:00MCG
STK vs BRI 12:00ES
ESS vs CAR 12:00MCG
GCF vs PTA 12:00MS
SYD vs RIC 12:00SCG
NTH vs GWS 12:00ES
GEE vs MEL 12:00SS
ADE vs WCE 12:30Adelaide Oval
FRE vs WBU 14:00Domain Stadium
View All Fixtures
AFL 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D % Pts
Adelaide Crows 0 0 0 0 - 0
Brisbane Lions 0 0 0 0 - 0
Carlton 0 0 0 0 - 0
Collingwood 0 0 0 0 - 0
Essendon 0 0 0 0 - 0
Fremantle 0 0 0 0 - 0
Geelong Cats 0 0 0 0 - 0
Gold Coast Suns 0 0 0 0 - 0
View all

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