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How close Clarko came to being sacked

The moment before Sam Mitchell's match-saving tackle in 2010 - ${keywords}
The moment before Sam Mitchell's match-saving tackle in 2010
AS A dual premiership coach of the club, Alastair Clarkson's standing as a great of Hawthorn is now assured.

But it can now be revealed how close he came to being sacked in 2010, as the Hawks stumbled out of the blocks with six losses in their first seven matches.

Never mind that the club was barely 18 months removed from its shock 2008 premiership win over Geelong, then Hawks president Jeff Kennett reacted furiously as the losses kept mounting.

Fairfax Media reported on Saturday that in Playing to Win, his new insiders account about Hawthorn's march to last year's premiership, acclaimed journalist Michael Gordon writes that the tipping point for Kennett that year was the 43-point loss to Essendon in round six, the fifth defeat on the trot.

A seething Kennett confronted Clarkson, chief executive Stuart Fox and football manager Mark Evans in the MCG dressing room after the match, drew an inverse pyramid on the whiteboard and offered a reminder that the four of them were at the bottom of the pecking order at the club.

"It's not about the president and it's not about the board and it's not about the coaches or even the players," he said.

"We're here for these people!" he continued, pointing at the flat top of the upside-down pyramid. "These are the people you have let down!"

Kennett then left the room, prompting a staffer to ask whether the illustration on the whiteboard was a box. "I think it was a coffin," Clarkson responded.

Gordon writes that Fox, who was in first year at the helm after crossing from Geelong, was summoned to Kennett's home the following evening, where the radical idea of demoting Clarkson to coaching Box Hill for a week was floated.

Clarkson, meanwhile, had sniffed the wind. He overhauled the game-plan, ditching ‘Clarkson's Cluster’ for good and rotating through the interchange more heavily. For his part, Fox began an examination of the club's football operations for the board.

Kennett was convinced not to 'demote' Clarkson but an open letter to members and supporters on the club website made it clear that everyone was on notice.

The Hawks lost again in round seven, this time to West Coast in Perth in an improved performance. In round eight, it took a desperate run down of Richmond's Shane Tuck on the 50m arc by Sam Mitchell to preserve a three-point win.

In the book, Clarkson is under no illusions about what might have happened had his side lost to the winless Tigers that afternoon.

"Had that sailed through, I might not have seen any more of season 2010. That's how delicately placed football clubs were."

Interviewed last year for the book, Kennett said he could not recall; whether he advocated for Clarkson to be demoted to the VFL or to take a break from coaching for a short period. "It's the same thing," he said.

Playing to Win, The Inside Story of Premiership Glory, by Michael Gordon, published by the Slattery Media Group. $29.95 plus P&H.  Available exclusively at Hawthorn Football Club. Visit HawksNest, Waverley Park – Monday to Friday 9am til 5pm and Saturdays 9am till midday or via www.hawksnestonline.com.au