by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago
In Round 4 last year, Port Adelaide registered its first win of the season over arch-rival Adelaide. The win gave the club and Matthew Primus a respite. However, the following week brought a shattering loss to Gold Coast. It wasn't the margin but the fact that it was the Suns' first AFL win in their debut season and somewhat of an embarrassment for Port. Like the Suns, Port went on to win just two more games last year and the blowtorch was well and truly heating up on the club and Coach Matthew Primus. While it could be pointed out that the Suns were in their debut season with many young players still adjusting to the rigors of the AFL, Port came under plenty of criticism. It has not been much different this year with some dismal performances and it all came crashing down for Primus after the Round 19 match against the Kevin Sheedy led Giants who registered their second AFL win.
Had it been almost any other team losing to the Giants or had Port been more successful overall this year, the loss could be forgiven due to the high emotion surrounding Kevin Sheedy's 1000th AFL match and the suggestion earlier in the week that the Giants might be tanking to gain valuable draft picks. Primus was in tears as he left the coaching box before the final siren and club officials held a marathon meeting the next day. Although some reports said that the club had decided as early as February that it would not renew his contract, it decided to make the announcement now rather than wait until the end of the season so the search for a new coach could start right away. Primus was offered the option of coaching out the season but he opted to walk away immediately. It is not only Primus who may be out as CEO Keith Thomas said that the club was close to completing an "important, necessary and exhaustive" review of the club, assisted by "seven external, independent experts" not connected to the club. The panel has been charged with identifying weaknesses and needs and submitting a review and comments on specific aspects of the club.
At the same press conference, president Brett Duncanson announced that he would also be stepping down at the end of the year. Although the board was unanimous in wanting him to continue, he said he felt it was in the best interests of the club that he step aside because the club "... needed clear air to right its performance". Duncanson broke down several times as he tried to thank club officials and his family for their support during his tenure. He also paid tribute to Primus and his dedication as a coach, saying he never wavered from the goals he set when appointed in 2010 or lost faith in the players. He further commented that Primus would always "... be known as a true champion of the ... club".
Primus fronted the media in a separate press conference later in the day and was philosophical about his sacking. He admitted to being disappointed about the circumstances under which he has left Port after serving as a player, captain and coach. He said he would have liked to remain but respected the club's decision. He added he would like to remain in the industry and that he loved football and wanted to stay involved but would take a break before looking at other options. In commenting on the loss that led to his demise, he said he was mystified by the team's performance, stating "How we played ... I don't know where that came from" and that the players were "... as disappointed as anyone".
Primus took over as caretaker coach in 2010 after the departure of Mark Williams and took the team to five wins from seven games to earn the official appointment for 2011. In 2012, the club added Garry Hocking, Shaun Rehn, Brad Gotch, Josh Carr and Tyson Edwards to the coaching staff and Primus hoped for better results even though the playing list at his disposal appeared one of the weaker line-ups in the AFL. They lost the season opener to St Kilda, but showed signs of competitiveness in their losses to top sides over the next two months. A three game winning streak in May included upset wins over North and Carlton. They did well against Essendon for three quarters but were overrun in the final term and lost by 50 points. Against Fremantle, they managed just two goals in three quarters. Then came the disaster against the Giants. All up, the Primus-coached team has lost 34 games from 47 played.
Primus rejected the notion his players had let him down and gave them encouragement when he told them of his departure. He reminded the playing group of how ruthless the industry can be and how it is a high-performance industry which requires a standard of performance every week. He also urged supporters to stick with the club "in the good times and bad times".
Primus played 137 of his 157 league games with Port Adelaide between 1997 and 2005 and captained the club. He missed the 2004 breakthrough Premiership due to injury. He played his first 20 games with Fitzroy and joined Port when Fitzroy merged with Brisbane at the end of 1996 and Port joined the AFL in 1997.
Assistant coach Garry Hocking will take over for the remainder of the season. Hocking played 274 games with the Geelong Cats 1987-2001, winning four club Best and Fairest awards during his career. He was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame in 2008. He began his coaching career in 2005 with WAFL side Peel Thunder, then coached the Under 18 team Geelong Falcons 2006-2009. He joined Port as an assistant in 2010. It is not yet known if he will nominate for the senior coaching job.
As always, there has been no shortage of media speculation about who will succeed Matthew Primus. Some have suggested former Sydney and Bulldog coach Rodney Eade, now serving as Collingwood's football and coaching strategist, but his three year contract has no "get-out" clause. Eade himself said that while a return to senior coaching had not been ruled out, he was enjoying his role with the Magpies. He also pointed out that he signed his three year contract "... in good faith". Former Docker coach Mark Harvey, now an assistant with Brisbane, is another potential candidate but he refused to comment. Former Tiger and Bulldog Leon Cameron, now a highly respected assistant coach with Hawthorn, could also come under consideration. He applied for the Western Bulldogs position last year and narrowly lost out to Brendon McCartney. Former Adelaide star Tyson Edwards was tempted to apply for the job at Adelaide but felt he wasn't ready. He is currently serving as an assistant at Essendon.
Another potential fallout as the result of Primus departing could be the loss of talented player Travis Boak. Boak comes out of contract at the end of the year and it has turned into a "Gary Ablett" situation with speculation that he will leave Port and return to Victoria with several clubs interested in his services. It is believed Geelong is his preferred destination so he can be closer to family and friends. Geelong has been chasing him for some time and several weeks ago he was visited by a small contingent of two Cats players and the head coach Chris Scott. It has been rumored that the loss of Primus may have pushed Boak, who was considering staying put, to leave.
Source: theage.com.au, heraldsun.com.au, author notes
Article last changed on Wednesday, August 08, 2012 - 10:34 AM EDT