It is by no means the longest finals drought in the AFL, but for Trent McKenzie it has been 10 long years and 123 hard-fought games before the Port Adelaide defender’s finals opportunity has come.
After 106 games with the Gold Coast Suns as a member of their inaugural side, the 28-year-old was delisted from the Suns at the conclusion of the 2017 season before subsequently being signed by the Power as a delisted free agent.
McKenzie’s first two seasons at Alberton were defined by long-term and niggling injuries, limiting his ability to break into coach Ken Hinkley’s side.
A renewed sense of belief and a full pre-season has made the world of difference for McKenzie this season, becoming a mainstay in a side that has held top spot on the ladder since the conclusion of Round 1.
Despite knowing finals were a lock for the majority of the season, McKenzie said it was still a surreal feeling when the finals fixture was confirmed.
“We knew we had to have a consistent year (to play finals), which we did, but we also never really felt like that opportunity was locked in until the end of the season,” he told aflplayers.com.au ahead of Thursday’s night clash against Geelong.
For McKenzie, who only managed two games in his first two seasons for Port Adelaide, the opportunity to play finals is one he doesn’t take lightly.
Prior to this season, where McKenzie has played 15 matches, his win-loss record was alarmingly in the red – 78 losses from 110 outings.
“(Finals) is what everyone plays for and I think I’m ready to do that now,” he said.
“I’m ready to get out there and have a swing.”
After being delisted by the Suns, Ken Hinkley, who worked closely with McKenzie when he was at the Gold Coast, was a big lure for bringing the well-rounded defender to the club.
While it’s taken McKenzie some time to cement himself in the Power’s best 22 – particularly after a wretched injury-run, including hurting his ankle in his first game for the club in 2018 – he was confident in Hinkley’s ability to get the best out of him as a player.
“Kenny knew the way I went about it and how I played so I had the trust in him,” he told aflplayers.com.au earlier this season.
Although McKenzie feels that there hasn’t be a significant amount of change in his football this year compared to previous seasons, he credits the strong connection of the group and the support of fellow defender and Port Adelaide captain Tom Jonas to the club’s, and his personal, impressive rise.
“I spent a lot of time training with ‘TJ’ and he’s come a long way this year,” McKenzie said.
“He’s really taken that role under his wing and I suppose he’s also been able to get the best out of himself (and the group) this year.”
According to McKenzie, a big focus for Port Adelaide in the off-season was working on the off-field connection between the group; understanding the impact it could have to on-field performance.
“Although it was a long-time ago now that was something we really focused on but this, and the circumstances around it (with hubs), really made that case even more so,” he said.
“We’ve got a really good connected group and mix of younger and more senior players but despite those differences we’re all really close… I think that’s shone.”
There is still a long way to go in October this year but with an impending finals series on the horizon, McKenzie is grateful to be getting his opportunity – whatever the outcome.
“I’m just happy to be out there playing, whether it’s a normal season game or finals” he said.
“As someone who has missed out on a fair chunk of senior football over the years it’s great to be out there and playing my role for the team.”
While the time on the sidelines presented numerous challenges for McKenzie around the self-doubt he experienced as he pushed closer to a return to senior football, it also presented a number of important learning opportunities.
The resilience that he’s acquired as a result of his experiences is something he is hoping will hold him in good stead for this season and years to come.
“Things are going to go against you at some stage (of your life) but you also never know what’s going to happen and if you keep pushing through, some positive will come of it at some stage,” he said.
For McKenzie, that something positive will be running out for his first final in front of the Power faithful at Adelaide Oval.