Alastair Clarkson exposes a rare philosophical side


Clarkson was in love. That love would be requited in a respectable 10-year playing career with North Melbourne and Melbourne and a second-to-few coaching career with Hawthorn. These ruminations come from his dissertation at the Hawks’ best-and-fairest night in October, not much reported at the time, now attracting appreciative notice on Tony Wilson’s Speakola website, an archive of great speeches.

Clarkson’s topic was perspective. “What happened to me for a couple of years there (is that) I lost that nine-year-old passion and love and essence of the game,” he said. “(I’d think) I’ve just got to find a way somehow back to that nine-year-old.

“If we lose perspective along the way, the game becomes a prick, and none of use can allow that to happen.”

Clarkson harked back to 2012, when the red-hot favourite Hawks lost the grand final to Sydney. That night, rather than brood, they talked about how Swans co-captain Jarryd McVeigh had lost his new-born daughter, and the death of Jill Meagher, and the death of Clarkson’s own brother-in-law from a brain tumour at 39.

Grounded, the Hawks won the next three premierships. “Then peanut here loses all sense of perspective, and thinks okay, this game is just about winning every year,” said Clarkson. “Let’s just do it again.”

When the winning stopped, there was a vacuum. In it, the Hawks floundered. This year, Clarkson decided to broaden the outlook, still striving to win, of course, but along the way making a big deal of the 200th games of Ben McEvoy, Luke Breust, Liam Shiels and Isaac Smith, and Shaun Burgoyne’s record-breaking 372nd game, and the debut of Sudanese refugee Changkuoth Jiath – in the snow in Canberra, if you don’t mind – and Jarryd Roughead’s whole mighty career.

They won lots, they lost some, but all the while Clarkson tried to keep in mind that a club was only ever the sum of its people. “If we continue to make it about our people, then whatever happens, win, lose or draw, really who cares?”

It wasn’t perfect, nor will it always be. Erratic kicking and a loss to West Coast one Friday night left Clarkson distraught. Perspective went out the window. His consoler, of all people, was president Jeff Kennett, a sometimes trenchant critic. “It’s not so bad,” Kennett said. “We played pretty well, but we just got beaten.”

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For two functions in grand final week, they all came back: Hodge, Mitchell, Lewis, Crawford, Sewell … the list is as long as your arm, and I’m picturing a Michael Tuck arm, in a long brown-and-gold sleeve. It warmed Clarkson’s heart.

Of course, it’s easier to talk about keeping winning and losing in perspective when you mostly win. Perspective alone doesn’t win premierships. There’s so much more to the mix, including rat cunning. Clarkson had it all along. That nine-year-old, he said, would return the Tommy Sherrin at the end of each season, complaining it had gone out of shape. He always got another one, gratis.

But this is the off-season, a time for reflection and meditation. “If you let wins and losses be the thing that determines and conditions how we have an attitude towards our players, our coaches, our club, one another, the workplace, then we’re going down the wrong track,” Clarkson said. “Let’s keep some perspective.”

It’s as good a note as any on which to finish the year.

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