It was 1985 and Fitzroy had been thrown off the Junction Oval. Home games were now played at Victoria Park, where the Lions were made to feel left out in the cold by Collingwood. Forget about being co-tenants; we soon found out we were unwanted guests. Training sessions were held on the dimly-lit, boggy Northcote football ground and requests to train at Victoria Park were continually knocked back.
Having made the finals the previous two seasons, we were now having a losing run and my mood as coach darkened further when this skinny, 18-year-old lad from Camperdown, who had all the skills in the world, didn't embrace my offer to become a Fitzroy player. His name was Ken Hinkley and he was in the Lions' recruiting zone.
I can remember being in the change rooms at Northcote, trying to sell what a great opportunity it would be for him to leave the bush and be a star. But he didn't want any of it. He hated the city, probably thought Fitzroy's prospects were bleak and told me he wasn't buying my sell. I was annoyed with the response but secretly admired his strength of stance.
As it turned out, I left Fitzroy and a year later the Camperdown kid decided to come and give it a go. He only lasted two seasons with the Lions, played a total of 11 games and, from a half-forward flank, kicked 20 goals.
Being unhappy in Melbourne, a deal was done to clear Hinkley to Geelong. That made him much happier, and happy footballers tend to play well. His new coach, Malcolm Blight, gave Hinkley a fresh challenge by playing him across the half-back line. He excelled. He read the play to perfection, took intercept marks, ran and carried the ball with grace and speed. He was named an All-Australian defender in 1991 and 1992, came third in the Brownlow and played in three grand finals, albeit losing ones.
A desire to coach led Hinkley to clubs in country Victoria. A stint at St Kilda with Blight was short-lived, but then came the lengthy assistant role at Geelong where he taught the likes of Gary Ablett, Jimmy Bartel, Steve Johnson, Corey Enright and Matthew Scarlett how to be premiership players. That led to a two-year role mentoring the kids at the Gold Coast. Finally, a senior role became possible when a desperate Port Adelaide decided to appoint its first "outside" coach since Fos Williams arrived in 1950.
And what a great decision it has been. The Power looked a mess nine months ago. Favourite son Matthew Primus had been sacked as coach. It had won just one of its last 12 games in 2012. Home crowds were low. Senior players such as Troy Chaplin and Danyle Pearce left for greener pastures and, tragically, midfielder John McCarthy died on an end-of-season trip to Las Vegas.
But things took a turn for the better when the heavily courted Travis Boak decided to stay. Geelong was desperate for the Torquay boy to join its ranks, but for Boak to say no to Chris Scott, Joel Selwood and co when they flew into Adelaide to make their pitch says a lot about him. Now, as captain, his on-field leadership is first rate.
A president with profile was also needed. Enter David Koch. He has drawn supporters and sponsors to the club. Membership for the first time has exceeded 40,000. Koch, when first appointed, said he would be a low-profile president. With the club success and the spotlight on him, I hope he stays true to his word.
But what most of us didn't know was that the Port Adelaide list wasn't as bad as we thought. It is the third-youngest list in the AFL and it is stacked with players who were first-round draft picks. So there is talent. The recruiters have done a good job, but it was the fitness and development of the talent that was sub-standard. To remedy that, one of the best fitness conditioners in the world, Darren Burgess, was lured from the Liverpool Football Club to oversee the program. Also brought in to fast-track the development of young players was Alan Richardson, recognised as one of the best teachers of young talent through his work at Collingwood, Essendon, the Western Bulldogs and Carlton.
The results have been startling. Eleven wins have Port in the top eight. The club's stirring win last Sunday to beat the Crows was the most enjoyable and exciting game I've seen this season. It was one of five narrow wins this season, proving there is great fighting spirit.
At the start of the season, Port Adelaide had three main objectives. The first was to restore its credibility in the AFL. Tick. The second was to play a style of football that would bring the crowds back. The exciting, brave, bold, risk-taking football has done that.
The third objective was to deliver hope for the move from AAMI Stadium to the Adelaide Oval, which will occur next year. A new wave of young guns will make their mark for Port Adelaide at this exciting new venue. Names we will get to appreciate will be Chad Wingard, Hamish Hartlett, Ollie Wines, Matthew Lobbe, Jasper Pittard, Andrew Moore and John Butcher. All were first-round draft picks and all look destined to bring a lot of joy to the Port faithful.