How Dons set up Port spending spree

It was in February 2016 that Gillon McLachlan visited Port Adelaide's Alberton home and was given the rounds of the kitchen by coach Ken Hinkley.

Furious at the AFL's decision not to compensate the club for the loss of not one but two former Essendon players suspended for taking banned substances, Hinkley reportedly leant over a staircase and delivered his thoughts to McLachlan, who was meeting Port executives, on the Power's unfortunate plight.

Chairman David Koch had already made his thoughts well known to head office.

The Port view was that the club should at least have been compensated with a top-up player for Angus Monfries ??? taken from Essendon before the drug scandal had been exposed. The AFL refused, Port Adelaide lost Monfries and star recruit Paddy Ryder and missed the finals for the second year running. And Hinkley went into 2017 with his own job under a cloud.

But now comes the silver lining. Anyone wondering how a club criticised for a plethora of supposedly crippling rich, long-term player contracts could afford the experienced trifecta of Tom Rockliff, Steven Motlop and Jack Watts only has to look back to the war chest created by the Essendon saga.

Because the Bombers covered a significant chunk of the Ryder and Monfries contracts in 2016, Port was able to bank more than $1 million of its total player payments over successive seasons. Added to that was the fact that the majority of big player contracts ??? including the rich Charlie Dixon deal ??? did not factor in TPP increases achieved in the new pay deal.

Not to mention at least another million dollars freed up with the recent departures of Jackson Trengove and Jarman Impey ??? probably the first Port player in Hinkley's time to ask to go home.

No wonder Port has for the past 18 months angrily denied suggestions of salary cap pressure.

Watts and Motlop are both 26 and Rockliff is 27 and the trio cost the club in total just one low second-round draft pick ??? No.31 ??? which Port traded for Watts. For a club that has played finals over three of the past five years that is a reasonable haul with a conservative estimated annual cost next season of about $1.5million.

Motlop and Rockliff came via free agency, part of a long-term strategy hatched two seasons ago by football boss Chris Davies and list manager Jason Cripps.

They crafted an assault on the 2016 draft - a haul including Sam Powell-Pepper, Todd Marshall and Joe Atley - followed by a free-agency smash and grab this year. And for every Hamish Hartlett, Matthew Lobbe and the recently retired Alipate Carlile - whom Port had to pay out - were long-term deals achieved for the likes of Robbie Gray and Travis Boak.

Given that Melbourne sent Watts packing, questioning his commitment, Geelong did not fight to keep Motlop despite his September form, and Rockliff, in spite of his impressive season, has had issues of his own at Brisbane, it is worth questioning the wisdom of the Port spree.

And yet the club has a record of improving the form of its foreign legion in the past - think Jay Schulz, Matt White, Jack Hombsch, Monfries, Ryder and Dixon - and is desperate for players it can move forward and finish the job.

The club was No.1 for entries in 2017 and boasted eight more scoring shots than West Coast in its heartbreaking elimination final but lost the game. That's where Motlop comes in with Watts clearly relishing the lack of acute expectation offered by his new team.

You'd have to say as the trade period draws to a close that Davies and Cripps have done a superb job in list management and recruiting. Ryder is the reigning club champion with Dixon running a close second and Powell-Pepper one of the teenage recruits of the year.

You could say that ??? with some financial help from the Essendon Football Club ??? they have delivered Hinkley his best possible opportunity over the next two seasons. In one sense for the five-year coach the pressure is off thanks to his new long-term deal. In another the expectations at Alberton have reached a whole new level.

This story How Dons set up Port spending spree first appeared on The Age.