HAWTHORN coach Alastair Clarkson has refused to blame a lopsided second-half free kick count on his side's 10-point defeat to Port Adelaide on Saturday night.
The Power ended up winning the free kick count 20-8, including 14-0 after half-time, at their Adelaide Oval fortress, with Zak Butters' goal with barely two minutes to go sealing victory for them.
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Equally as telling was Port Adelaide's ability to win 18 extra contested possessions than the Hawks in the fourth quarter, with Travis Boak, in particular, a dominant force.
"That's just the swings and roundabouts of the game," Clarkson said, when quizzed on his team not receiving a free kick in the second half.
"But despite all that, we were even (on the scoreboard) at three-quarter time and Port got their hands on the footy and that's to their superior play – nothing to do with anything else."
Clarkson's Power counterpart, Ken Hinkley, also played a straight bat to the free kick discrepancy.
"It goes for you sometimes and it goes against you other times," Hinkley said.
"It's part of the game. It's challenging at times when it goes against you, and it's challenging sometimes whether it's one free kick or two free kicks, but I think the game's collectively trying to be umpired fairly as best it can be.
"Sometimes there are some ups and downs. Today, obviously, in the second half, we had a bit more of the ups."
Both clubs had challenging lead-ups to the clash.
Port Adelaide pair Peter Ladhams and Dan Houston were suspended for COVID-19 breaches, while James Sicily (knee), Jaeger O'Meara (hand), Jack Gunston (back) and James Frawley (dislocated thumb) came out of Hawthorn's team.
In the senior Hawks' absence, James Cousins was the standout among the younger players, while Sam Frost stepped up with Frawley out to keep Charlie Dixon to two goals.
"I can't remember the last time a Hawthorn side had six changes – and they're pretty important players right now to our structure," Clarkson said.
"Port had some players out, too, but to have them all in one whack and to make six changes, I thought the guys who came in acquitted themselves well.
"It was our captain (Ben Stratton)'s 200th game and we played with the type of spirit he's played his 200 games in, so I was pleased with our effort.
"We're disappointed we lost, but … there was enough to think a win is just around the corner if we continue with that endeavour."
Clarkson was pleased with Jon Patton's competitiveness in his return, and said again he would make sure to strike the right balance between youth and experience down the stretch.
Hinkley found a positive in the Power's ability to grind out victory despite again being below their best, saying that doing so was "really important".
He offered rich praise for Butters' "special" moment at the end to kick the match-winning goal and also veterans Boak and Tom Jonas, who enhanced his All-Australian hopes.
However, Hinkley was less inclined to discuss banned duo Ladhams and Houston, after being asked whether they would return to the senior side once their suspensions were served.
"I don't care about the two boys today. I care about the team, and the team won," he said.
Ryan Burton (quad), Todd Marshall (thumb) and Connor Rozee (heel) could all return in the next fortnight.