HAWTHORN coach Alastair Clarkson says his club consciously decelerated its 2017 campaign a month into the season, admitting that exposing young talent and protecting injured players superseded making the finals.
For Clarkson and his Hawks, last year was the first time they’d missed an AFL finals campaign since 2009. And after a dreadful 0-4 start to their campaign, it was always going to be an uphill battle to feature in September.
But unlike Sydney, which began 2017 in a worse predicament (0-6) yet responded with an unlikely, history-making winning run to feature the finals, Clarkson has admitted the Hawks took a different route.
Speaking to Fox Footy’s Ben Dixon, Clarkson said the Hawks opted to dim the lights on their finals aspirations, rather than become “buggered” by striving to make the top eight.
“We took different paths,” Clarkson, comparing his side and the Swans, told
“By 0-4, we’d been there and done that before in 2010 when we were 1-6 after seven rounds and just worked so hard to get ourselves back into the season, just like Sydney did last year.
“But you spend so much energy just trying to get yourselves back into finals that you get into the finals and you’re kicked out of there pretty quickly — and that happened to Sydney.”
Clarkson added that the decision was primarily based around investing in the club’s next generation of players.
“It wasn’t that we chose to deliberately lose games or anything like that — we wanted to win — but we also weren’t going to try to push some of these players back from injury prematurely.
“We were going to make sure they’re right to go but, in the meantime, give as many youngsters as we could (a go).”
In turn, the likes of James Sicily, Ryan Burton, Blake Hardwick and Kaiden Brand received more senior game time, with most thriving in different positions on the ground.
Still, Clarkson said he was disappointed with his side’s inconsistency.
“When the game was on the line, we were up for the contest, we were terrific. Then in some other games we were really, really poor where you thought we would have been better,” he said.
“For mine it says a little bit about the mindset of the group and just how hungry we were and we just didn’t have that level of hunger last year that we’d demonstrated so well for the previous five or six years. I think just playing 25 games a year for six years in a row probably just caught up with us a little bit.”
Despite the pain of missing finals last year, Clarkson said it had given his troops extra motivation for this season and that they were keen to “get ourselves back in among the fold”.
“I think there’s a fire burning amongst the playing group too — very, very proud group,” Clarkson said.
“There’s been a bit of a change in our personnel over the last 12 to 18 months and that was always going to come at some point in time. Some of that we’ve needed to fast-track a little bit too to try and work out what our next generation of players look like and what our next opportunity for success is going to look like.”
Clarkson pointed out the array of off-season changes at the Hawks, especially off the field. Jeff Kennett returned to take over the chairman duties from Richard Garvey, while Graham Wright was promoted to football manager and three new faces — Scott Burns, Darren Glass and Sean Dempster — joined the coaching department.
Despite the change, Clarkson said the club felt its steadiest for years.
“We’ve always been really big on continuity and stability — that’s been a little bit tumultuous at different stages throughout the last 18 months,” he said.
“We feel like for the first time for a fair period, we’re nice and stable now and people are in their right position and ready to forge ahead in this next little journey for our footy club.”
This year will be Clarkson’s 14th season in charge at the Hawks, making him the longest-serving coach in the club’s history.
Despite his longevity in the role and incredible success, the four-time premiership coach said it’s important for him to remember that he’s never going to be the perfect coach, which inspires him to keep improving.
“Part of that is recognising that you’re actually pretty useless at some things and what can you delegate to others,” Clarkson said.
“I’m not great at stats for instance — I’m bloody hopeless with it. So it’s just actually recognising, which comes with a bit if maturity. It also comes with a bit of humility too that you don’t have to be everything in this caper.
“That’s why I go overseas on a regular basis and continue to try and study because I know that there’s still plenty of things that I need to get better at.”