The prodigal son is set to return. After months of speculation, rumours and intrigue, the AFL’s worst-kept secret has finally been confirmed – four-time AFL Premiership winner Alastair Clarkson will coach North Melbourne in 2023. The new deal, which was confirmed by The Age on Friday revealed that Clarkson had signed a five-year deal with the Kangaroos, the club he famously played 93 games for between 1987 and 1995, marking a welcomed return home for the super coach.
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The announcement that Clarkson will coach North Melbourne puts an end to long-held suspicions that the former Hawthorn legend would be returning to the trainer’s box. Over the past six months, Clarkson has been linked to GWS, Essendon and North Melbourne, however, his past connection to the Kangaroos, coupled with the team’s on-field issues saw the club firm as a favourite. On Friday, Kangaroos president Sonja Hood confirmed the appointment, revealing that discussions have been ongoing for at least four weeks.
“I’m delighted to announce that last night Alastair Clarkson agreed to coach the North Melbourne Football Club for the next five seasons,” Hood said in a statement. “(The) four-time premiership coach will lead our talented, young group from 2023 until at least 2027. I can’t speak highly enough of the professionalism of Alastair and his manager, James Henderson, over this past four weeks. We’ve had a crash course in getting to know each other and Alastair’s passion to drive our club back to where we belong is incredibly infectious. Alastair officially begins with us on November 1, and I’m looking forward to welcoming him, wife Caryn and children Stephanie, Matthew and Georgia, to the Shinboner family.”
— North Melbourne FC (@NMFCOfficial) August 18, 2022
While Hood shared the announcement to members first, the North Melbourne Football Club did share a cryptic message to the wider AFL community. Taking to Twitter, the club’s official social media account posted an image that simply displayed the number 781, a reference to Clarksons’ 1987 debut when he became the 781st player to pull on the North Melbourne jumper. In what was one of the most incredible debut efforts in football history, Clarkson went on to kick three goals in that match, including the match-winner after the siren.
Clarkson’s run at North Melbourne lasted nine years before he made the jump to Melbourne, where he closed out his playing career. Importantly, his second life as an AFL coach has been one of the sport’s greatest accomplishments. After taking on the reins of the Hawthorn Football Club in 2005, Clarkson steered the Hawks to four Premierships and is widely regarded as the greatest coach of the modern era, not only responsible for Hawthorn’s success but credited with revolutionising the way game strategy is undertaken. Famously, a number of Alastair Clarkson’s assistants, often referred to as ‘The Clarkson Proteges’, have gone on to coach at senior level in the AFL, including Premiership-winners Damien Hardwick, Adam Simpson and Luke Beveridge, along with Chris Fagan, Brett Ratten and Craig McRae. North Melbourne great Corey McKernan took to radio on Friday to express his support for the hiring, saying that the appointment would give Roos fans “hope”.
“To have someone like Alastair come and lead the football club, all the Kangaroos fans that really copped it this year can stand a bit taller and have a bit of a Wayne Carey-like swagger today,” he told 3AW. “It’s really great to see him, in essence I suppose, come back to where he started.”
The announcement of Alastair Clarkson as Kangaroos coach means that out-of-favour Essendon coach Ben Rutten is likely to endure another week of intense criticism in the wake of another missed-opportunity season. The Essendon head still has a year left on his contract, but with fans calling for his axing and reports of unrest within the club, the days may be numbered for ‘The Truck’.