More details have emerged about the possible genesis of the long-running feud between AFL coaches Alastair Clarkson and Sam Mitchell. The pair, who combined for four premierships at Hawthorn between 2008 and 2015 when Mitchell was a star midfielder for the Hawks, have been at odds ever since it was announced Clarkson would be succeeded as coach by his former player.
The succession plan saw Clarkson depart the Hawks under somewhat acrimonious circumstances, with Mitchell now at the helm. Clarkson, after a few years away from the game, returned to the AFL coaching ranks with North Melbourne this season, albeit in the shadow of an investigation into alleged racism during his time at Hawthorn.
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Clarkson has already indicated that he will not attend the upcoming 10-year reunion for Hawthorn's 2013 premiership, a decision Mitchell has said it disappointing. However the tension has reportedly increased, according to Channel 9's Caroline Wilson, over a story Clarkson has long told about Mitchell when speaking with AFL academy prospects over the years.
As a four-time premiership coach, Clarkson's guidance has been highly sought after for junior teams looking to break into the AFL draft. However Wilson says Clarkson's stories of Hawthorn's early finals losses regularly involve heavy-handed criticism of Mitchell.
The Herald Sun also reported on Clarkson's speech, which is believed to have been received poorly by both Mitchell and Hawthorn. Wilson said it could be interpreted as a 'redemption' speech regarding Mitchell overcoming earlier poor performances in finals - however she also said Clarkson had described Mitchell as being 'selfish' in some versions.
“My understanding is that this is a story Alastair Clarkson tells often,” she told Footy Classified. “You can treat it as a redemption story that Sam didn’t play well in a couple of grand finals before becoming one of the great premiership heroes of the Hawthorn Football Club.
“This is not the way it has been seen by the Hawthorn Football Club or Sam Mitchell. The speech went for a long time ... a lot longer than even they expected. Various versions have come out of that meeting, some say it was a redemption version, others say words like ‘selfish’ were used by Clarkson in relation to Mitchell.
“It has fragmented a footy club. Frankly, it’s fragmented a premiership dynasty because I think people are starting to take sides now. Are you a Clarkson man or are you a Mitchell man?
“Mitchell, up until now, has taken the moral high ground, he hasn’t actually said much. I predict that might change this week.”
Ongoing tension between Alastair Clarkson and Hawthorn
The latest indication of tension between Hawthorn and the former coach comes after Clarkson made the extraordinary declaration that Hawthorn's conduct as a club should be coming under scrutiny as part of the ongoing AFL investigation into the allegations levelled at himself, now Brisbane Lions coach Chris Fagan and former player development manager Jason Burt. All three have strenuously denied the allegations which prompted the investigation.
In a surprising move, Clarkson described the Hawthorn Football Club as the 'catalyst' for the investigation, suggesting that the club itself was not subject to scrutiny as part of the investigation. Clarkson also claimed the 'damage has been done', criticising lead investigator Bernard Quinn KC for what he said was a breach of confidentiality by disclosing publicly why the investigation was taking so long.
“There is one particular party that is the catalyst for all this that has not been investigated at all their governance and conduct in this whole thing - the Hawthorn Football Club - just shameful,” Clarkson said. “Let’s do an investigation on them and their practices and see how they go.”
Clarkson says he will see out the investigation process, but says he has little faith in the integrity of the AFL's pursuit of the claims made against him. The trio were accused of, and deny, accusation of historical racism during their tenure with the Hawks from 2005 onwards.
“The guy who actually establishes the protocol around confidentiality actually breaches [it],” Clarkson alleged. “The damage is done, reputations have been scarred and we’ve got to somehow just claw our reputations back through this whole process.
“And all we want is a fair platform to be able to do that. Once we get that opportunity, then we’ll let the judge decide. That will either be a court of law or the court of public opinion.
“We’ve waited for eight months to get some sort of process going in terms of what you call procedural fairness in terms of the legal game, and the procedural fairness offered to myself, ‘Fages’ and Jason has been next to zero and that’s particularly frustrating.”
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