In a dramatic day of changing fortunes, Port Adelaide is set to revert to option three as coach — former Fitzroy and Geelong defender and current Gold Coast assistant coach Ken Hinkley.
The move may also pave the way for former Carlton coach Brett Ratten to be appointed as an assistant to Guy McKenna at the Suns. The irony is that Matthew Primus, who was dumped by Port, has joined the Suns as their midfield coach.
Earlier last night, it was revealed that Greater Western Sydney had sneaked under Port's guard and signed Hawthorn assistant coach Leon Cameron to a deal that will result in him succeeding Kevin Sheedy as head coach of the new club from the 2014 season.
Port Adelaide had hoped Cameron would be the man to sign a long-term deal as its head coach some time this week, but after meeting with Giants chairman Tony Shepherd, chief executive David Matthews and Sheedy himself — who has played a role in selecting his successor — Cameron accepted the Sydney club's offer.
The Giants offered Cameron a four-year contract. The first year he will serve as senior assistant to Sheedy, the role that former Port coach Mark Williams had in 2012, and then the following three years he will lead the club as senior coach.
The Power has been keen to appoint a coach with experience — Rodney Eade and Ratten were the prime candidates — and failing that, it was looking for an experienced assistant coach.
Having gone through the process and sounded out Cameron, the panel selected to find Port’s answer again looked to Hinkley and is extremely close to finalising an agreement, possibly tomorrow.
Port officials last night declined to comment on the pending appointment other than to say that an announcement was still expected tomorrow or early next week.
Hinkley, 46, is far from being on a "who's left" category as many may believe given the fact other key candidates have rejected Port’s offer. He was named by The Age as a priority target the day it was announced Primus would not continue in the role.
Given Port's off-field uncertainty and drama, including implementing a virtually new board, plus the grief that continues following the death of player John McCarthy, Hinkley shapes as an excellent choice.
As a player, he was a brilliant half-back, winning Geelong's best and fairest in 1992 and All-Australian selection in 1991 and '92. He played 132 games from 1987-95. As an assistant coach at St Kilda, Geelong and Gold Coast, he was highly regarded, and in recent months has been highly recommended by Malcolm Blight.
Port established a panel to find a new coach, headed by David Parkin as an advisor, plus Peter Schwab, AFL director of coaching and a former coach at Hawthorn, Geelong premiership captain Tom Harley, Port vice-chairman Kevin Osborn, club CEO Keith Thomas and football manager Peter Rohde. The Harley-Hinkley Geelong connection cannot be dismissed in this equation.
This week, Port Adelaide has lost Danyle Pearce, and Troy Chaplin could follow. The Power announced yesterday it would not match Fremantle’s offer for Pearce, the 2006 Rising Star winner.
Like Pearce, Chaplin is a restricted free agent and the Power has until this afternoon to decide whether it will match Richmond’s offer for the key defender.
Port's financial woes and poor on-field form has made it particularly vulnerable in the new free-agency system.
Rohde said the club had made a call on Pearce first because his situation was much more clear-cut.
"We got the Pearce one earlier ... we had more time to consider that," Rohde told AFL Trade Radio.
"To be more honest, it's a bit more cut-and-dried, to match the offer that Fremantle put up was really not an option for us."