AS most of the AFL world was, Ken Hinkley was doubting himself.
No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t block out the rumblings about his future as Port Adelaide coach.
Hinkley, in August last year, had completed his seventh season at Port’s helm.
His team had missed four of the past five finals. He hadn’t coached a winning finals side since 2014.
For months, many pundits were openly questioning Hinkley’s tenure.
His president, David Koch, fuelled the fire by stating the “pass or fail mark that we set ourselves is making the finals”.
His chief executive, Keith Thomas, bemoaned that Port was no longer playing “an exciting brand of football”.
Port’s fan base was in rebellion mode: some had started an online petition calling for Hinkley’s sacking.
Despite holding a contract to continue as coach, the noise was getting to Hinkley.
“You do get some self-doubt,” Hinkley said on August 25 last year, the day Port’s season ended.
“I’m human … I feel that. And I don’t like it.
“The hard part about the game is the outside stuff that starts to build and gets a bit of momentum and creates some uncertainty.”
But the very next day, CEO Thomas put out the proverbial fire.
“Ken will be coaching in 2020, absolutely,” Thomas said.
“Can we foresee a Ken Hinkley run football program delivering a premiership model? Absolutely.”
Thomas had given Hinkley a three-year contract extension in 2017, when the coach was a target of Gold Coast.
The ever-honest Hinkley revealed a clause in the contract: he was only guaranteed to serve the last season, 2021, if he made the 2020 finals.
“That’s not entirely my decision, obviously,” Hinkley said in February.
“There’s an option in my contract that suggests if we play finals I will have further time at Port Adelaide.
“And that’s exactly what I think will happen. I will have further time at Port Adelaide.
“For all the people that are interested in the clause, they need not worry because we will play finals.”
Hinkley also boldly declared: “We’re coming”.
He was talking premierships, not just a career-extending finals campaign.
Many pundits scoffed.
Just as they did when Richmond kept Damien Hardwick as their coach after yet another lousy season, in 2016.
Then, Hardwick was akin to Hinkley in 2019: doubting himself.
Hardwick had coached the Tigers since 2010. And hadn’t won a final.
After missing the playoffs in his initial three seasons, Hardwick oversaw three consecutive elimination final losses.
In March 2016, the Tigers extended Hardwick’s contract for another two seasons.
By August that year, his job was in peril after winning just eight games and finishing 13th.
“I segregated myself from players,” Hardwick would later say of his 2016 season.
“I was trying to find the solution myself but in effect I was the problem.
“I had a really poor year … I wasn’t in a good spot.”
At the end of the season, most wouldn’t have batted an eyelid had Richmond sacked Hardwick.
But they stuck with him. Just as Port did at the end of 2019 with Hinkley.
Hardwick duly delivered a premiership in 2017. And another last year.
“Without 2016, we wouldn’t be sitting anywhere near where we are today,” Hardwick said during last year’s finals.
“You often learn most in your darkest times and no doubt that happened to me and this football club.”
The journeys of Hinkley and Hardwick continue on Friday night when their clubs meet in a preliminary final.
And they have trod similar paths to get there.
(C) AAP 2020
KEN HINKLEY’S PORT ADELAIDE COACHING RECORD
Appointed: October 7, 2012
Home and away: 99 wins 71 losses
Finals: 4 wins 3 losses
Win percentage (all games): 58.19
DAMIEN HARDWICK’S RICHMOND COACHING RECORD
Appointed: August 26, 2010
Home and away: 135 wins 99 losses 3 draws
Finals: 8 wins 5 losses
Win percentage (all games): 57.80