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Ken Hinkley’s fatal coaching error that doomed Port Adelaide in opening seconds of preliminary final ‘choke’ job

Major questions are being asked about Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley after his side were humiliated in a home preliminary final by the Western Bulldogs.

Despite having a week off to prepare and playing in front of a home crowd, Hinkley’s men were ambushed in ruthless fashion by a hungrier Bulldogs outfit.

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The loss against the Bulldogs meant the Power became just the fourth team in VFL/AFL history to lose consecutive home preliminary finals, and the first since the Bulldogs in 1997 and 1998.

The veteran coach was pictured with his head in his hands in the early stages of the contest as he watched his players give their opponents a five-goal head start, a deficit they would never overcome.

Former Bulldogs forward Nathan Brown suggested that Hinkley was at fault for his side’s lacklustre start, pinpointing the baffling decision to start tagger Willem Drew on the bench.

After holding clearance machine Tom Liberatore to just 17 disposals in the Power’s Round 23 win over the Bulldogs, Drew could do nothing but watch on as Liberatore ran riot in the opening minutes of the preliminary final.

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“You’ve got to ask the question of Ken Hinkley why [Drew] started on the bench when he’d done the job on Tom Liberatore before that,” Brown said on Nine’s AFL Sunday Footy Show.

“All of a sudden they don’t go to him and he’s mentally fresh, he gets in there and gets the first [clearance] out to a very important player in [Marcus] Bontempelli, so Bontempelli’s in the game.

“That’s what he does and that’s what Willem Drew needed to stop, but he didn’t set up for that.

“So how do you expect everybody else to defend when your coach doesn’t defend from the start?”

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By the time Drew entered the game, Liberatore had already collected five disposals inside the first five minutes of the game, but finished the match with just 19 touches as the Port tagger shackled him after the initial burst.

Brown’s call came after former Port Adelaide captain Warren Tredrea also questioned Hinkley’s role in having his team ready to play.

“You only get blown off the park from the first bounce when you aren’t mentally prepared for a ruthless contest,” he tweeted. “Port had no excuses tonight.”

“Indictment on the players, but also a key role of the senior coach.”

Tredrea’s Port teammate Kane Cornes suggested that another preliminary final loss, Hinkley’s third at the helm of the Power, will put him under pressure next season.

“There’s that ten-year mark, which Ken Hinkley is going into next year, without a premiership,” he told the Sunday Footy Show.

“That seems to be almost the unwritten tenure for a coach if they don’t get a premiership, we saw that this year with Nathan Buckley after getting so close.

“[Hinkley is] contracted until the end of 2023, but the pressure is coming big-time.”

Cornes’ sentiment was echoed by leading AFL reporter Damian Barrett, who said “every aspect of [Port Adelaide] choked”.

“What happened last night, it wasn’t just on the players, it’s on [Ken Hinkley], he would know that,” Barrett told the Sunday Footy Show.

“The discussions that now emanate out of this disaster are going to be very intriguing.

“We know the backdrop of the club needing to be successful [and] it ultimately hasn’t been under that watch.

“Everything was going right this year, they ended up getting it to a point where they had it on their terms and they absolutely blew it.

“We don’t often use this word these days, but they did choke as a football club last night. Every aspect of it choked.”

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