By Peter Blucher
Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley has been like a second father to Charlie Dixon. He has steered the big ex-Cairns basketballer through much of his 15 years in the AFL, and together they share a special player/coach relationship.
Last Saturday, as Hinkley began his 11th season in charge at Port knowing full well the pressure is on like never before, the partnership shared a triumphant moment at the expense of the Brisbane Lions.
Dixon was best afield as the Power embarrassed the Lions, turning an embarrassing and costly second quarter ‘brain explosion’ into one of the most dominant halves of football of his 190-game career.
Early in the second quarter, when Port led by 10 points, Dixon was penalised for a dubious free kick and gave away not one but two 50m penalties to gift the Lions’ Daniel Rich a goal – the start of a Brisbane burst in which they added six of the next seven goals to lead by 13 points.
Dixon answered with a key major for the home side on the stroke of halftime, and after a “quiet chat” with the coach was the most dominant player in Port’s 18-18 (126) to 11-6 (72) blitzkrieg.
The 32-year-old strike weapon turned occasional ruckman finished with 14 possessions, three goals and eight hit-outs and, more importantly, seven marks inside the forward 50m zone and an equal career-best six contested marks.
The stats sheet told how important his contribution was. The entire Brisbane side had six marks inside 50 and four contested marks.
In the voting for the AFL Coaches Association player of the year award, in which each coach allocates votes on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis, Dixon received six votes to rank behind teammates Jason Horne-Francis (9) and Ryan Burton (7).
But word from the Brisbane camp suggested it was the big fella in the #22 Port jumper they considered the match-winner.
It was like payback time for Dixon, who first linked with Hinkley in September 2009, when the former Fitzroy and Geelong player ended a six-year assistant-coaching stint at Geelong to join the Gold Coast SUNS.
He served as Guy McKenna’s right-hand man at the SUNS in their 2010 VFL season, and for their first two years in the AFL before winning the Port senior coaching job in October 2012.
The pair had three years apart before Hinkley steered a campaign to lure the big, bearded key forward from the SUNS to the Power at the end of the 2012 season.
Both out of contract at the end of the season, they’ve shared plenty of ups and downs over seven years together at Alberton, but Hinkley’s pride in his most important player when admitted post-match the Power had gone away from their key values in the second half on Saturday.
“We talk a lot about humility, and we talk a lot about standards and trust … and we went outside that in the second quarter. I know it’s because of the players’ desire to help the team, but sometimes you lose your way and become a bit too much about yourself,” he said.
He said this was not how Port Adelaide wanted to be as a club before a clear reference in part to Dixon after his double 50m penalty blow-up.
“What I’m proudest in is that the players who are perhaps being challenged in that space … they were the biggest lifters for us. They showed how much they care … I love that,” he said.
More specifically of Dixon, Hinkley said “Charlie is one of the most caring players in our team … he’s a really passionate person. Sometimes that passion spills over into areas we don’t want it but showed what a great leader he is in the second half. I thought he was terrific for us.”
Dixon, who didn’t play until Round 11 last year due to injury, has now played 125 games at Port for 219 goals to rank eighth on the club’s all-time goal-kicking list. And, with now 313 career goals, he is within striking distance of Kurt Tippett, who sits fourth on the all-time Queensland goal-kicking list at 325, behind only Jason Dunstall (1254), Nick Riewoldt (421) and Jason Akermanis (421).
The only other Queenslander to poll in the coach’s award in Round 1 was Port’s Aliir Aliir.
Coming off a form slide in 2022, when he finished outside the top 10 in the Port best-and-fairest after winning All-Australian selection in 2021, he was back to his brilliant best. He controlled the back half for the Power with 15 possessions and seven marks (four contested) and was rewarded with five votes.
In other notable AFL Queensland news, North Melbourne’s Bailey Scott began his fifth AFL season with his first Round 1 win, picking up 17 possessions as the Roos, under new coach Alastair Clarkson, beat West Coast at Marvel Stadium.
Gold Coast debutant Bodhi Uwland was one of few shining lights for coach Stewart Dew in the SUNS’ 49-point loss to the Sydney Swans at Heritage Bank Stadium. He handled the step up in class nicely and finished with 20 possessions after an eye-catching second half.
In further good news for the SUNS, Lachie Weller is set to return to football in Round 2 after a knee reconstruction in June last year.
GWS ruckman Brayden Preuss also received good news on the medical front, cleared of a serious back problem which threatened to curtail his entire 2023 campaign.