Alastair Clarkson during North Melbourne's training session at Arden Street Ground on August 2, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

NORTH Melbourne coach Alastair Clarkson says he rediscovered his passion for the game during his absence from Arden Street and is now ready to return to his natural habitat in the coaches' box this Sunday in Hobart. 

The 55-year-old walked away from the game following the Kangaroos' loss to Port Adelaide in round nine to focus on his mental and physical wellbeing, amid the Hawthorn racism saga that has since found no adverse findings against Clarkson, Chris Fagan or Jason Burt.

Clarkson was appointed as David Noble’s successor in August last year, returning to the club he represented as a player and reuniting with head of football Todd Viney to help North Melbourne embark on a new era.

The Kangaroos won their first two games against West Coast and Fremantle but have now lost 17 games straight ahead of this weekend's fixture against Melbourne at Blundstone Arena.

In his first press conference since returning to the club, Clarkson revealed watching 2022 pick No.4 George Wardlaw burst onto the scene in the weeks after he stepped away helped reignite his desire to return to the club.

George Wardlaw handballs during North Melbourne's training session at Arden Street Ground on August 2, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

"For the first four weeks of stepping away from the game, I lost my appetite to even watch footy, including the North games. But over the last eight weeks (the appetite has returned)," Clarkson told reporters at Arden Street on Friday afternoon.

"I think it was like a lightbulb came on for me when George Wardlaw played against Essendon. It was just: 'Jeez, I want to be involved in this kid's career'. 

"It has been in my blood since I was a kid, right through my family, in the community it was genuinely six months of the year footy, six months of the year cricket and that was our whole district. We lived and breathed footy. 

"I was hoping when I first stepped away I hadn't lost the appetite for footy. But for three or four weeks I was trying to work out whether if I had, but it soon returned and my appetite is as strong as it has ever been now that I feel within my own body that I'm back to where I was previously."


After working closing with Dr David Cahill, Dr Peter Parker and Professor Steve Davis in the past few months, Clarkson said he has learned not to let the past consume him and is now focused on fulfilling the mission he undertook when he chose to join North Melbourne just under 12 months ago.

"The last 12 months have been a really challenging time and you weigh that up and you have some choices. That is what perspective does for you," Clarkson said.

"I had an opportunity to consider over the last 10 to 12 weeks the choices you make; I could look in the rear vision mirror and wallow in self-pity at some of the difficult times I've had to endure over the last 12 months; or I can look at my whole life and whole career in footy and look at the journey and the opportunity to stay involved in this game. 

"I'm still enormously excited by where this club can go in the next few years. We know the challenges that are ahead of us. I'm excited by where we can go."


When Clarkson arrived at Glenferrie Oval at the end of 2004, Hawthorn was struggling financially, commercially and on-field, before the Kaniva product helped build an era that led to four premierships and reawaken a sleeping giant of Victorian football. 

Clarkson said he felt the burden of responsibility to help guide North Melbourne despite his own personal challenges away from the club earlier in the season and was embarrassed to tell president Dr Sonja Hood, CEO Jen Watt and Viney that he simply had to step away from a game he has been involved in at the highest level since 1987.

North Melbourne president Sonja Hood and Alastair Clarkson during a media opportunity on August 19, 2022. Picture: Getty Images

"The most difficult part of what I had to endure in the initial decision was sitting down with Todd and Jen and Sonja and stepping aside mid-season. So many people are relying on your presence and your direction and your guidance," he said.

"It is very, very difficult to walk away from and step aside from. That weighed really, really heavily, but in the end, I had to get myself right physically and mentally. 

"There was a bit of embarrassment attached to that, but you shouldn't be ashamed, you can't do anything productive if you haven't got really good health. If you've got that, then you can make a contribution.

"I was on a bit of a downward spiral and I needed to get myself right. I thank the club and my family and close mates and friends who helped me get through a really tough patch."

Clarkson praised the selflessness of Brett Ratten for stepping up when he and the club needed him to take over as caretaker coach, only months after being blindsided by St Kilda who re-signed him and then sacked him within 100 days.

Brett Ratten speaks to Lachie Young at the quarter-time break during the match between West Coast and North Melbourne at Optus Stadium in round 20, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"He has been a ripper, and it's not just 'Ratts', it's Jo his partner and his children. He took on this gig in November of last year thinking it would be three days a week and game day and planted a few trees in between. Then this was thrust upon him," he said.

"For Ratts and Jo and the extended Ratten family to make the commitment to step in in my absence, and not knowing in the initial stages whether it was going to be one week, one month, one year, because I didn't even know at that point of time. 

"Him and I go back a fair stretch. Just like any commitment in a friendship, I hope that I've been able to help him along the journey and I know for certain he has been able to help me. No greater example of that than the last 10 or 12 weeks."