This week brought the sensational news that Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson will be leaving the club, at the end of next season if not earlier. It seems not to have been his choice, but he has handled himself with extraordinary dignity since Tuesday’s announcement.
For Hawks supporters like me, the world seems to have tilted just slightly on its axis. Clarkson, who led the Hawks to four AFL premierships in his 18 years, is universally acknowledged as the greatest coach of the modern era. His passion is still intact.
His reputation is that of a pugnacious straight-shooter – remember the footage of him punching a hole in the wall of the MCG coaches’ box?
But in the hurley burley of professional sport, it is easy to forget footballers and coaches are not only professionals but people, who often care desperately.
I’ve met Clarkson once, briefly, in May 2011, when a children’s charity arranged for me and three sons to visit a Hawthorn training session. We got to meet men who became Hawthorn immortals: Buddy Franklin, Sam Mitchell, Jarryd Roughead and Brad Sewell, among others. At the end I took a quick snap of Clarkson embracing my youngest son, Sam.
I sent it to the club by way of thanks, and they sent it back with a kind message on the photo signed by Clarkson. My family will never forget his generosity, finding time to give a sick, small boy some attention in the midst of his busy routine. Sam died a month later of leukaemia. That framed picture sits by our dining table.
It’s hard for anyone, let alone one of the all-time greats, to realise their club no longer wants them. That time overtakes us all, ready or not. Thanks again Clarko, and all the very best.