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Health crisis forces Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson to take a break

Nick Bowen  May 27, 2014 5:23 PM

Clarkson's big battle The Hawks provide an update on coach Alistair Clarkson's health crisis
AFL 2014 Rd 06 - Richmond v Hawthorn

Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson will take a break from coaching while being treated for Guillain-Barré syndrome

Our primary concern is for Alastair’s health and a timeline for his return to coaching is not a consideration at this stage
ALASTAIR Clarkson will not coach Hawthorn this Sunday against Greater Western Sydney and faces an indefinite absence after being admitted to hospital on Monday night with acute back pain.

Hawthorn announced on Tuesday that Clarkson had been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), which is an inflammation of the nerves from the spinal cord, and was expected to remain in hospital for a week.

The club said Clarkson's condition had been detected early and medical specialists were confident he would make a full recovery.

Former Tiger CEO knows Clarkson's pain

But Hawthorn said no timeline could be put on Clarkson's recovery, with assistant coach Brendon Bolton to fill in as interim senior coach in his absence.

Clarkson had suffered back pain over the past two weeks, which became more acute on Monday night.

The Hawks coach has already shown positive signs to his initial treatment.

Hawthorn chief executive Stuart Fox said the club would not take any risks with Clarkson's health.

"Alastair was admitted to hospital last night with back pain, and he has subsequently been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is an autoimmune condition,” Fox said.

"We’re fortunate that Alastair's condition has been detected early, and we're confident he is in the best possible hands under the care of very experienced specialists," Fox said.

"Our primary concern is for Alastair’s health and a timeline for his return to coaching is not a consideration at this stage.

"The club will provide support for Alastair and his family for as long as it takes him to recover." 

What is Guillain-Barré syndrome? The specialists' view

At a hastily arranged press conference on Tuesday, Fox said he suspected Clarkson would be absent for at least "a few weeks" but expected the club would have a better idea later this week.

"The big question is when is he going to return? Look, we don't know the answer to that," Fox said. 

"I suspect it's going to be at least a few weeks but maybe longer… 

"I think we'll get more advice in a few days just to see how he's responding to treatment."

Fox said Clarkson was feeling "pretty good" after responding very well to his initial treatment.

"He's in good spirits," Fox said.

"I think he was very concerned, but now that they have diagnosed (his condition) and he's been reassured that he's got it early and he's receiving treatment (he is relieved)." 

Fox said it was too early to tell what involvement Clarkson might have with the club and his players during his recovery, but stressed his recovery would be the No.1 priority.

Fox said the Hawks' board had unanimously settled on Bolton as its interim coach, with football operations manager Chris Fagan, Clarkson and captain Luke Hodge all involved in the decision.

"Having worked together for six years, Alastair and Brendon share very similar coaching, teaching and management philosophies," Fox said.

"The club has complete confidence that Brendon can step in temporarily for Alastair for as long as may be required.

"With the support of the other assistant coaches, development coaches, leadership group and players, we are confident Brendon’s transition as temporary senior coach will be seamless."

Alastair Clarkson gets his point across during the round seven game against St Kilda. Picture: AFL Media

Clarkson's illness comes on the back of a horror run of injuries that has sidelined Sam Mitchell, Josh Gibson, Cyril Rioli and Brian Lake in recent weeks.
The Hawks have also dropped their past two matches, to the Sydney Swans and Port Adelaide, to slip from first on the ladder to fourth.
But Fox did not see Clarkson's illness as another setback, backing interim coach Brendon Bolton to step in "seamlessly".
"I'm sure the world will see it as a setback," Fox said.
"(But) the football world is about being presented with challenges on day-to-day basis.
"We see it as just another challenge."

Clarkson's illness is not the first occasion an AFL player or official has been struck by Guillain-Barré syndrome. Hawthorn list manager Graham Wright spent four weeks in hospital with the disorder in late 1993 when he was playing for Collingwood.
Wright suffered limited paralysis for a short period and lost 11kg, but recovered to play in round one the following season.

And former Richmond CEO Steven Wright resigned from his position at the end of 2009 after the effects of a bout of GBS suffered in 2007 made it impossible for him to continue.