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Never say never, but Hawks put finals further from Port's grasp

Football

Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley called it a “pretty solid game of football… bar one quarter” – but it was a quarter that could ultimately spell the end of the Power’s unlikely charge to a finals berth.

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Dynamic Hawthorn duo Cyril Rioli and Jack Gunston kicked three goals each as the Hawks trumped Port by 22 points last night to retain their grip on top spot of the AFL ladder – and leave their hosts mired adrift of the top eight.

But Hinkley was in no doubt as to how and when the match was lost.

“The game was won by them in that patch in the third quarter,” he ruefully mused.

The Hawks won 15.11 (101) to 12.7 (79) at Adelaide Oval as the Power’s finals’ hopes faded further – they could slide three wins behind the top eight by the end of the round.

Hinkley is clinging to the mathematical possibility of a miracle – for now – insisting “you never say never… we’re not going to give it away”.

Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson praised his midfield for sparking his side in the third quarter.

“I’d like to take credit for an inspirational start to the third quarter but that is just down to the players,” Clarkson said.

“The things we did in the third quarter, we were trying to do early in the game but it’s just sometimes they open up for you.”

Brad Ebert of the Power retires to the change rooms after hitting the ground heavily while taking a successful mark during the Round sixteen AFL match between Port Adelaide Power and the Hawthorn Hawks at Adelaide Oval in Adelaide, Thursday, July 7, 2016 (AAP Image/Ben Macmahon) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Brad Ebert left the field and ended up in the RAH emergency room with bruised ribs, but Hinkley believes he could still play next week. Photo: Ben Macmahon, AAP.

Rioli made a triumphant return after missing Hawthorn’s last match following the death of a grandfather, booting three majors, having a hand in another for the reigning premiers – and entangling himself in a spate of spats with Port players.

The Hawks held a slender six-point lead at halftime but flexed their collective muscles in the third term, kicking five goals to Port’s two to create a match-defining 30-point advantage at the last change.

Port slipped 36 points down 17 minutes into the last quarter before belatedly rallying, kicking three late goals to sneak within 16 points before Hawk Brad Hill iced the win with a goal after the final siren.

Hawthorn’s battle-hardened brigade of Luke Hodge (29 disposals), Sam Mitchell (28 possessions) and Jordan Lewis (25 touches) were all influential as they overwhelmed the Power before 43,025 spectators.

Rioli headlined an ever-dangerous Hawthorn attack which featured Gunston, Luke Breust (two goals) and Paul Puopolo (two goals), while ruckman Jonathon Ceglar also kicked two.

Port, now with seven wins and eight losses, lost Brad Ebert to concussion when his head crashed into the ground after taking a ripping first-quarter mark while recruit Charlie Dixon was hobbled by a leg injury in the second half.

Port were overly reliant on Robbie Gray, who was a standout with two goals and 29 disposals, Chad Wingard slotted three majors and midfielder Matthew Broadbent gathered 28 possessions.

The buildup was marked by a war of words, as Clarkson questioned the Power’s ability to consistently play tough football, but in the aftermath he was less keen to speculate on form.

AFL Season 2016, Round 16, Port Adelaide, Hawthorn

Paul Puopolo kicked two telling goals. Photo: Mihael Errey, InDaily.

“We don’t actually worry too much about form lines, we just worry about trying to secure victory,” Clarkson said.

“I have said this many times before, as bland as it is, it’s about adding up victories and making sure we secure enough of them to hopefully finish in the top four.

“And from there, you’re probably pretty concerned in September with the way that you’re playing the game and playing at your very best.

“Right now it’s just about chalking up the wins.”

The Hawks are seeking a fourth consecutive premiership and Clarkson said there was no secret to their ongoing success.

“Good people,” he said.

“It’s not about money. It’s all about people.

“We have got a lot of good people in our playing group, some fantastic people in our coaching staff and football administration and our club.

“There’s no secret.

“Port Adelaide were dead and buried three years ago and brought good people to the club. Western [Bulldogs] dead and buried 18 months ago, brought good people to the club. The Carlton footy club, good people at their club now.

“It’s not necessarily that the previous people were bad people. It’s just like they weren’t connecting, they weren’t doing it for the club in the right manner.

“You have good people at your club and you give yourselves the greatest chance of success, irrespective of money and where you sit and all that sort of stuff.”

In a theme that is coming to mark season 2016, the umpiring baffled both coaches – although neither was willing to be overly critical of some bewildering calls.

“Whether it was for Hawthorn or against Hawthorn … there was just a patch there where not too many on the ground knew why the free kicks were getting paid,” Clarkson said, blaming in part his own intemperate remarks pre-game.

“[They umpires] knew this game was going to be pretty hot. I probably added fuel to the fire yesterday with some of my comments,” he said.

“Our game is the most complex and difficult game in the world… I can only imagine because it’s so hard to play and coach, it must be really bloody tough to umpire.

“And we have got to tip our lids off to them really, they do a marvelous job… but like anything, you sit and wonder `geez, why did he handball there, or why did he kick it there’ – well, sometimes you wonder why did the umpire make that decision.

“But by and large they do a pretty good job for our code.”

Hinkley said both teams were confused by the officiating.

“Not just our team. It wasn’t just our way or against,” Hinkley said.

“The umpires have a tough job, there’s no doubt about that. But there’s some clarity in some things which would be nice.

“It’s a challenge. It’s a fierce contest. They umpire what they see and sometimes they might not always get it right but I don’t think that is deliberate in any way, it just happens.

“I won’t be having a crack at umpires because I think they do a great job.

“But it’s a hard game to umpire, it’s as simple as that.”

-AAP

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