North Melbourne coach Alastair Clarkson has booked a separate flight home from the round three match against Hawthorn in Tasmania this weekend, after the two AFL teams were booked on the same charter flight home. The Kangaroos coach says the move was meant to 'take the fizz out' of any potential conflict with the former Hawks coach sharing a plane with the current team.
The move has hinted at lingering tensions between Clarkson and Hawthorn seperate from the ongoing investigation into allegations of racism dating back to Clarkson's tenure as coach of the club. Hawthorn moved on from Clarkson at the end of the 2021 season.
Former Hawks midfielder Sam Mitchell took over as coach in what was intended to be a succession plan, but ended in acrimony as both players at the time and Clarkson were unhappy with the arrangement. Clarkson took a payout to leave his contract two years earlier than intended, ultimately earning the head coaching job for North Melbourne.
While off-field stories have dominated the first few months of Clarkson's tenure, on field it has been an early success, with two victories from their first two games. It's a far cry from the 0-2 hole Hawthorn have found themselves in.
Clarkson said he felt it was a common sense move to avoid any potential controversy by steering clear of his former team, particularly while the racism investigation was still afoot. “We’ve got a charter flight coming back together. So I won’t jump on that flight, I’ll come on a different flight,” Clarkson said.
“I just don’t think given the investigation that I’m embroiled in with Hawthorn, I don’t think it’s a great idea that we’d be sitting on a plane together. It’s only because of COVID that all of a sudden this is a great idea (two teams sharing a flight).
“But we actually said for a long period of time we don’t think the races should be together anymore, just because of the emotion of what might happen when two teams come off at halftime and at the end of the game, so let’s separate them.
“Yet after the game it’s OK to put two teams on a plane. I don’t reckon it’s smart and I don’t think it is particularly smart given what’s going on with me at the present time that I jump on that plane.
“So I spoke to the club earlier in the week. I don’t think it’s fair on anyone from within Hawthorn, I don’t think it’s fair on anyone from within North Melbourne to have to subject themselves to that and if I’m sort of the central figure in that then it just takes all the fizz out of it altogether.”
Clarkson remains focused on North Melbourne's AFL season
Clarkson has denied any wrongdoing when he was coach of the Hawks and is prepared to cooperate with the independent panel in charge of the investigation. But there is no resolution in sight - almost six months after the AFL announced the investigation - as Clarkson prepares for his first game as coach of North Melbourne.
"No I haven't (spoken to the investigators), and that process will just unfold as it will," Clarkson told reporters before the beginning of the season. "But footy season's upon us now, so we'll just roll our sleeves up and when they give us a call they'll let us know."
Clarkson said he is putting all his energy into coaching North while the investigation continues in the background. "I still need to address it, of course, and from time to time we try to understand where it's all at," Clarkson said.
"But by and large, the fortunate thing is I've got 45 players that are trying to be the best that they can possibly be and lift themselves up off (the bottom of) the ladder. Fortunately for me that's where most of my focus has been."
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