“How long will it be before it ever gets back to what it was, or will it ever get back to what it was, I’m not too sure, but what I am very, very confident of is whatever sacrifices we make in the next six to 12 months, we will return to a more profitable position – all clubs and the league – in the not-too-distant future and that will allow us to get some sort of normality back to the product we deliver in terms of the game we play.”
Clarkson was full of praise for the way all 18 clubs and the league have banded together during the shutdown for the sake of the league’s future.
“The one thing about this dilemma that we have faced in the last 6-8 weeks in this country, and particularly our industry, is that it’s really brought our industry close together … we’ve all had to roll our sleeves up,” he said.
“A lot of people at club land have needed to chip in and assist the league in terms of some of their decision-making. This isn’t something that the league can just sit in a boardroom and just make decisions easily, they need to be liaising with the coalface of clubs on a regular basis and to their credit they’ve done that outstandingly well.”
But with the AFL in its most positive position since bringing competition to a halt 61 days ago, with June 11 locked in as the season resumption date, Clarkson warned that the competition was still precariously placed on a knife’s edge.
“We only need a significant [infection] spike within a club, within an industry, within society, for everything to get flipped on its head again,” Clarkson said.
Like every other club in the AFL, one of the positives of the three-month lay-off for Hawthorn is that players recovering from serious injuries might not miss too many games this season and Clarkson expected Blake Hardwick (chest) to line up in round two, while Jarman Impey (knee) and Daniel Howe (foot) are on track to figure prominently throughout the season.
After a week of contact-free training, clubs will enjoy their first physical workouts next week since round one and Clarkson said he would have to hold his players back to a degree to minimise the chance of injuries.
“We’ll try and manage that as best as we possibly can, bearing in mind that we have to put our players at some form of risk in their preparation to play because otherwise we’ll just get belted off the park by an opposition that we’re unprepared for,” he said.
“They [Hawthorn players] reckon they can’t wait, really. Outside of maybe something with their partners there’s been very little contact for a fair period of time,” he laughed.
“They’re competitive beasts … they’re looking forward to the physical stuff.”
As for the prospect of travelling in the first month of the season restart, Clarkson was not fussed at all, and he didn’t rule out the possibility of playing at the Hawks’ home away from home in Tasmania at some stage either.
“Whatever, whenever. So we’ll travel to Mooroolbark if we need to, we’ll travel to Timbuktu, back to the Kaniva Bulldogs, they’d host a game,” he said.
Meanwhile, with the AFL set to become one of the first major sporting competitions around the world to resume, the legendary coach revealed that teams from sporting leagues in other countries have been in touch with the AFL and its clubs to learn lessons from the way the competition was preparing for its restart.
Ronny Lerner is a Sports reporter for The Age.