Main content

Why Clarko can't stop thinking about Roger

The young Hawks ready to take flight Alastair Clarkson tackles the fans' questions in Ask The Coach
Alastair Clarkson has spoken of his admiration for Roger Federer - AFL,Hawthorn Hawks,Alastair Clarkson
Alastair Clarkson has spoken of his admiration for Roger Federer
I'm fascinated by a lot of sports, but the one who holds himself so well is Federer
Alastair Clarkson

ALASTAIR Clarkson thinks about Roger Federer.


Like the rest of us, the four-time Hawthorn premiership coach sat and marveled when Federer collected his 20th Grand Slam tennis title at the Australian Open last month.

It's not just his artistry around the court that captivates Clarkson, a noted observer of elite sport around the world. It is how the 36-year-old has been playing professional tennis for as long as he has, without winding down.

"I'm fascinated by a lot of sports, but the one who holds himself so well is Federer," Clarkson said.

"His performances to still be doing what he does at his age, the motivation to live the lifestyle that has to go with being a professional tennis player … hats off to him.

"He's been doing that for the best part of 20 years. It's not so much what you see on the court, but it's the struggles with balancing family and normality of life with the routines he's got off the court. He must be an unbelievable performer."

As coach of the Hawks, Clarkson has watched as his players, and even his staff, have battled to maintain the ravenous hunger required to compete year after year in the often brutal AFL.

It wasn't so hard in 2013. The Hawks had been the best team all year, but played a poor Grand Final the year before and were beaten by Sydney, so 2013 was all about making sure they didn't slip up again.

Then in 2014 there was the lure of back-to-back flags and in particular the chance to avenge the loss to the Swans on the biggest stage of all.

Hawthorn won it all again in 2015, but Clarkson readily concedes there were signs during that season that rousing themselves for battle, week after week, was becoming a problem.

It was only after the real prospect of a straight sets finals exit after losing the qualifying final to West Coast that the steely edge returned and the Hawks waltzed their way from there to  premiership they won chiefly because none of the other challengers that year were good enough.

But the motivational levels at Waverley have ebbed and flowed ever since.

"From the leadership group, all the all the way through, and there are traces of it with the coaches as well. It is so enormous to maintain," Clarkson explained.

"That's why so much credence is given teams that win two or three or four flags in a row. Or in tennis, four majors in a year.

"Motivation suffers and wanes from time to time and at different stages of 2015 to 2017 our players struggled."

A case in point was Cyril Rioli. The magical small forward injured his PCL against Brisbane in round eight last season and didn't play again for the rest of the year.


However he wasn't having his usual impact in games before then, and even the way he suffered the season-ending injury, landing awkwardly after flying for what was an unrealistic mark, spoke of a player whose head perhaps wasn't quite in the game.

"Did he need to go for that mark?" Clarkson asked.  "We said to him afterwards, 'What were you doing, you peanut?' He was never in the marking contest, but I think that was a reflection of him not being in the same space."

It was a difficult 12 months for Rioli and he had a delayed start to this pre-season after spending the summer in the Northern Territory with his father, who was seriously ill. He is rated only an even-money chance to be ready to play in round one against Collingwood on March 24, but the Hawks hope his sparkling form on the track continues once he resumes in the side.

As for his mindset and those of his decorated teammates, who knows?

"You'd think it would be easy to come to work when you play finals every year," Clarkson mused.

Maybe it is the missing out on the finals last year for the first time since 2009 that will do the trick for Hawthorn this time around.