Alastair Clarkson's legendary coaching career at Hawthorn will come to a close on Saturday, ending 17 seasons in which the master tactician has entertained, inspired and triumphed over and over. We look back on the coach's colourful and incredibly successful era at the helm.
Surprise appointment becomes stabilising force
The Hawks were an unstable club with no permanent chief executive and board challengers circling when Clarkson was appointed in September 2004. They had just finished 15th with four wins and the coach's appointment not welcomed universally, with former club captain Don Scott warning the decision could be reversed if his rival group was successful in taking over the board. That challenge was withdrawn months later, and Clarkson settled into building the club in his vision.
Nailing the Draft
Clarkson's plans quickly became clear in his first season in 2005, implementing a youth policy and blooding top-10 draftees Lance Franklin (20 games), Jarryd Roughead (16) and Jordan Lewis (19), with a young Luke Hodge (21) flourishing to win the best and fairest, and Sam Mitchell (14) taking on more responsibility in his fourth season. He reshaped the playing list immediately and set the foundations for premiership success with one of the game's greatest teams.
The 2008 premiership was secured playing a rolling zone that protected the corridor and forced teams to move the ball around the boundary. Described by commentators at the time as revolutionary, 'Clarko's Cluster' was the anti-thesis to the flood and aimed to force turnovers or stoppages as close to the Hawks' goal as possible. The premiers averaged the fewest inside 50s against in the competition and launched the era of team defence, with Clarkson's years of studying overseas sport paying off.
Recruiting drive gets Hawks back to the top
Hawthorn's 2013 premiership team included seven players that had been recruited from other clubs. Brian Lake, Josh Gibson, Jack Gunston, Shaun Burgoyne, David Hale, Brent Guerra and Jonathan Simpkin were all recruited by Clarkson and played roles in a new game plan built around precision ball-use. Matt Spangher, Ben McEvoy and James Frawley would follow as the Hawks became a destination club under Clarkson's clever recruiting.
A season of adversity
"That's what life's about, coping with adversity," Clarkson said at the Hawks' 2014 Peter Crimmins Medal having just led the club to back-to-back premierships, including a 2014 flag with a difference. Clarkson was hospitalised in May with back pain and diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an inflammation of the nerves from the spinal cord. It was considered doubtful at the time he would coach again that season. But after Brendon Bolton steered the team to five wins from five games, Clarkson was back, having beaten the rare auto-immune disease to lift the premiership cup.
'Unsociable Hawks' take the long way home
Clarkson's Hawks advanced to their fourth straight Grand Final after losing a qualifying final for the first time in that stretch. They were forced to take the long way to the premiership decider and again met West Coast, the team that had beaten them three weeks' earlier. They joined Brisbane (2001-2003) as the only club to win three straight premierships since Melbourne did between 1955-57, with their so-called 'unsociable' style a hallmark of the brilliant era.
Coach production line
Success on-field bred success in the coaches' box as Clarkson developed a small army of lieutenants who went on to lead their own AFL teams. Clarko graduates Luke Beveridge (2016), Damien Hardwick (2017, 2019, 2020) and Adam Simpson (2018) coached teams to every premiership since the Hawks' three-peat. Leon Cameron, Brendon Bolton and Stuart Dew are also coaching products of Hawthorn, while Brett Ratten had a stint at the club between coaching Carlton and St Kilda. Chris Fagan held senior football and coaching roles at the club before taking charge at Brisbane, with Clarkson also mentoring the man who will take over from him next week, Sam Mitchell.
The media circus
His weekly press conferences were always buried late in the week, but Clarkson had no shortage of memorable moments that were lapped up by the media. He punched a hole in the coaches' box wall at the MCG in 2012 and was caught napping during midfielder Tom Mitchell's acceptance speech at the 2018 Brownlow Medal. His secret coffee with AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan in 2018 created waves, using the opportunity to continue a campaign against blocking tactics Sydney had used against his forwards. He accused Sydney forward Tom Papley of "milking" free kicks in a post-match press conference last year and could often give candid responses to big issues when the heat of battle was still raw. Journalists themselves could find themselves in the firing line if they hit on a sore spot.
Ushering out his greats
The end of the Hawks' great era came with a rush, and the build to their "next piece of silverware", as Clarkson liked to say, saw some heroes depart. Four-time premiership players Jordan Lewis and Sam Mitchell joined Melbourne and West Coast respectively at the end of 2016 after conversations initiated by Clarkson. Luke Hodge retired at the end of 2017 before being convinced to reverse his decision and join Fagan at Brisbane. Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O'Meara joined the Hawks and a new era started. Premiership players Isaac Smith (Geelong), Matt Suckling (Western Bulldogs), Bradley Hill (Fremantle), Grant Birchall (Brisbane) and Taylor Duryea (Western Bulldogs) were others to extend their careers elsewhere.
The hard man sets an example in the snow
Clarkson famously has a 'no long sleeves' policy for his players, regardless of the conditions, and he set an example to follow in 2019 when the Hawks met Greater Western Sydney in a freezing Canberra. The coach ran a lap of Manuka Oval without a shirt on pe-game and laughed with his players at quarter-time as snow fell. Celebrating in the freezing conditions, he wore shorts and a polo shirt post-match after the Hawks beat the Giants by 56 points on an historically cold night for an AFL match, with the 'feels like' temperature dipping to -7C.
A dramatic exit
It was early in the 2013 season when Jeff Kennett, a former Hawthorn president at that stage, declared Clarkson should leave or be sacked at the end of the year. More than eight years on, Clarkson joked at the announcement of a coaching handover to Sam Mitchell that Kennett had to return as president to finally get him. That planned handover during 2022 never eventuated and the master coach's departure has been the explosive story of 2021, with one of the greatest coaching careers in VFL/AFL history now paused.