AT A meeting early last week, Port Adelaide's leadership group – comprising skipper Tom Jonas, vice-captain Ollie Wines and deputies Hamish Hartlett and Darcy Byrne-Jones – were told of the club's plan to swap into their black and white 'prison bars' jumpers after the game if they beat Adelaide in Saturday night's crosstown clash. 

But the idea, which the club's bosses decided upon weeks earlier in the case the AFL didn't allow the club to wear its historic guernsey for the game, was kept quiet until after the Power's 49-point Showdown win, when football manager Chris Davies pulled the team together just before the post-game presentation and informed them. 

The jumpers statement was the icing on a week that had seen the Power bounce back from their round seven belting to Brisbane, done so through a mix of physical recovery, injury management, tactical prowess, one-on-one development, team selection and line meetings, studying of vision, history lessons in the club's formation and rivalry with the Crows and a healthy dose of emotion. saw it unfold. 

Port Adelaide players in the prison bar guernsey after the win over Adelaide. Picture: Matt Sampson/Port Adelaide Football Club


THE WEEK begins in review form, with the Power spending Monday retracing their defeat to the Lions and monitoring sore bodies. Coach Ken Hinkley spotlighted Port's problems against the Lions after the loss, saying they were crunched in the contest across the ground, which gave his players a clear focus area for their clash with Adelaide. 

The Power are back on the track on Tuesday morning, but before they head out onto Alberton Oval meet in the club's expansive indoor facility. Each week the club nominates a 'hidden hero', a player who performs acts that might get overlooked or go without the recognition of a big mark or eye-catching goal. 

The player gets to wear the No.35 Port Adelaide Magpies jumper during training that week – a significant number at the club that was retired after the tragic death of former Port player John McCarthy (the number is also one of the last things the Power players see as they run out onto Adelaide Oval up their race). Chad Cornes, who also wore the number in his illustrious career with Port Adelaide and is now a development coach, helps run the segment. 

This week, Hartlett stands in front of the group as clips roll of veteran Tom Rockliff's performance in the SANFL, which ended with him spraining a medial ligament in his left knee (a day later he discovers his right knee needs surgery from the same incident). 

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"The number 35 is really special to us because it was the number Johnny wore in the season he played with us and it recognises Chad Cornes who pretty much runs the segment and also played the game the way it should be," Hartlett said.

"He was hard and tough and exemplified everything that we want to be as Port Adelaide footballers. It's a special guernsey to win and you definitely feel proud when you wear that."

Rockliff wears the jumper on crutches on the sidelines as the Power break into groups for their first training run of the week. 

Zak Butters, to the delight of teammates and coaches, has his first jog since syndesmosis surgery in April (by the end of the week he notices nerve pain that will elongate his recovery time), while Xavier Duursma and Lachie Jones, also in the rehabilitation group, hit the exercise bikes. Travis Boak, who missed the trip to Queensland with a sore quad, moves well and is on track for a return. 

The coaching group comes together on Tuesday to discuss the potential selection changes ahead of the Crows clash before Wednesday, which is the football department's day off. 

But if Wednesday is leisure, Thursday is all business in the key part of the week. It starts early, with the coaches and fitness staff meeting to lock in their 23 to face Adelaide in Showdown 49. Hinkley sits at the top of the table, staring at the projector which features how Port's side will look. Boak and Kane Farrell have been brought in, with Sam Mayes and Boyd Woodcock omitted. Martin Frederick has also been dropped but will be the medical substitute. 

"Are we all happy with how this looks?" Hinkley asks the room.

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There are others who need to prove their fitness later in the morning. Hinkley knows Hartlett is sore and will be watching his training closely. He can be given until the last minute to prove his fitness, but that would have an impact on Saturday's SANFL team, which is playing a curtain-raiser at Adelaide Oval.

"We're not taking him to Saturday. If he isn't right to go today then he will know," Hinkley said.

Ryan Burton came out of the Brisbane game with sore ribs. "I want to see 'Burto' tackle," Hinkley says. "I need to see that today. 'Boaky' will tell us if he's right to play."

Todd Marshall will have a light day, while Dan Houston's shoulder continues to need management. 

After the team is decided, they map out the two-hour training session in extreme detail, down to how many numbers will be in each group in every drill, which assistant will run it and how long each will go. 

Ryan Burton during a Port Adelaide training session on May 7, 2021. Picture: Getty Images

Former Brisbane skipper and coach Michael Voss plans and structures each training session as part of his expanded portfolio as the Power's senior assistant. 

They sit around a table shaped like an AFL oval, with magnets able to be moved around and notes scribbled on the glass top. Assistants Cornes, Voss, Jarrad Schofield and Brett Montgomery huddle around as Nathan Bassett stands above, with Hinkley leaning back in his seat, listening to suggestions, offering his own and making the final call. He is a coach at the top of his game, with a perfect balance of control and delegation

Once they're done, Hinkley goes to inform the players who are in and out of the line-up before their main session. Stretched and ready, they sit at the back of the indoor space as Voss takes them through the carefully designed training session.

Michael Voss with Matthew Lokan by his side during Port Adelaide's official team photo shoot in March, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

"The intention of this session? You can all guess what we're going to get out of it. It's about getting the ball back," he says. 

Hinkley, wired up to communicate with coaches on the field, observes training from the administration balcony before heading behind the goals to watch.  

In the afternoon, the assistants work with their line groups to narrow their focus. Schofield, who played in Port's 2004 premiership, leads the midfield through their opposition scouting of Adelaide. Over a number of hours in the previous few days, Schofield has sifted through edits of the Crows' loss to Greater Western Sydney to see what his group can learn.

From a supporters' perspective, it was a tumultuous time. For our people this is more than just about geography or friendly banter in the office

- Football manager Chris Davies

And they want to learn, with each member of the midfield group – from champions Boak and Robbie Gray to youngsters Connor Rozee and Miles Bergman – bringing a notepad and pen to the meeting and jotting down their key points about an Adelaide midfield that is set to regain captain Rory Sloane.

They listen as Schofield throws up scenarios to be aware of and where Port can get on top, and also want to know more. "Who was the Giants' best inside mid last week?" gun onballer Ollie Wines asks Schofield. "Where do they hit it?" Wines follows up, with Schofield then scrolling through examples of Adelaide's preferred ruck hitout zones. 

The hype of the Showdown is as real internally as outside. Aliir Aliir, who crossed from the Swans at the end of last season, has taken no time to acclimatise to the rivalry. "They hate us and we hate them just as much," he says.

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Exciting forward Mitch Georgiades, in preparation for his first Showdown, also understands what it means. "I haven't been in the system a whole long time but I can tell from the way we communicate that it is something special for us to be a part of that game and the rivalry is still there," Georgiades says. "I can't wait to be a part of it."

Anticipation is growing by Friday as Port heads to Adelaide Oval for its morning training run and kick around. Prior to that, the coaching group and fitness staff gathering in the Power's meeting group to chat through contingencies. They get a briefing on the health of the squad and the players who needed to be assessed earlier in the week, and discuss key match-ups. Hinkley sits at the front, throwing questions to each assistant, including the Power's plan to use Tom Clurey to stop in-form Crow Taylor Walker.

Players arrive for their line meetings, where Thursday's messages are reinforced, and they discuss each Adelaide player's predicted role. Wines is impressive, while Boak tells his fellow midfielders to enjoy the stage.

In the backline group, Montgomery asks his defenders to say what Adelaide's forwards would be saying about them in their meetings at West Lakes. They go around the room, as captain Jonas and reigning best and fairest Byrne-Jones humbly describe their attributes.

"It's a good chance to look at and remember what you're good at, and not just think about them," Montgomery says.

Tom Jonas ahead of the R8 Showdown on May 8, 2021. Picture: Matt Sampson/Port Adelaide Football Club

The breezy training run goes off without a hitch, but the players have one more presentation before the rest of their preparation is left in their hands. It might be the most significant of the week. 

Davies addresses the squad about the history of the club's rivalry with Adelaide. The lights are dimmed inside Adelaide Oval's changerooms as they screen a 10-minute video highlighting Port's struggles to win the initial AFL licence in South Australia, and the challenges faced as they pushed for the second licence years later. Davies stops the video at different stages throughout, explaining why things happened and the level of angst and threats directed towards Port Adelaide.

"From a supporters' perspective, it was a tumultuous time. For our people this is more than just about geography or friendly banter in the office," Davies says.

"I don't expect you to operate differently tomorrow night, but as current custodians of the club it's important to get an understanding of how this means more."

Davies is clear: Port's reasons for disliking Adelaide are different to theirs. That shone through when he asks Schofield, Montgomery and Cornes to each describe their Showdown experiences to the players.

Schofield says losing Showdowns was never part of his thought process and when his team did, he couldn't put his head out of the window in Adelaide. Montgomery says at first he didn't engage in the rivalry as much as he could. By the end, he knew its meaning. "We live and die by it," Montgomery says. 

Cornes' experience is about the supporters. "They remember the Showdown. Supporters will love you forever if you win the Showdown more often than not," he says. 

Scott Lycett ahead of the R8 Showdown on May 8, 2021. Picture: Matt Sampson/Port Adelaide Football Club


CLUREY, Aliir and Frederick kick around a soccer ball as Orazio Fantasia juggles three tennis balls. Willem Drew kicks a tennis ball against the wall and back again, while Burton and Karl Amon stretch. An hour before the biggest game of Port Adelaide's home and away season and there is a calm inside as the growing crowd noise filters down the race. 

Things ramp up as they file into the meeting room for Hinkley's final address. It is passionate yet measured, stern yet positive. He asks for tackles and toughness as he paces from one side of the room to the other. They play a highlights tape that epitomises the Port Adelaide brand: attacking, fast, bulldozing football. 

The meaning of the Showdown is again reiterated as Hinkley eyeballs some players, directs encouragement at others and leaves them all with the question: "What are you going to bring tonight?" They go out and do the rest.

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