Alastair Clarkson will notch up his 200th game as coach this September, which – at first glance at least – doesn’t sound like a huge achievement. Players seem to regularly reach the 200-game mark without too much fanfare; but in this day and age, it’s almost harder for coaches to reach that milestone than it is for players.
The game is changing faster than ever and game plans seem to become obsolete almost overnight. Any string of losses can be enough to cost a coach his job.
So what drives Alastair Clarkson, one of the game’s greatest innovators? Does he feel the need to win another premiership to cement his legacy? Is he driven by a fierce desire to beat the best? Is it about being the best coach he can be?
It may sound simplistic, but Clarkson’s desire to coach simply comes from a love of the game. He’s just thankful to be involved.
“I get enormous joy and satisfaction out of seeing people get the opportunity to play this great game,” the 2008 Premiership coach says.
“I know that I benefited from that for a big period of my life as a player at North Melbourne and Melbourne. I just love the fact that I can help others enjoy that experience.”
While Clarkson has made headlines for a range of reasons – both good and bad – he’s never been interested in the limelight that comes with being a senior coach.
“I’ve been on the front page and back page of the paper but I’d much prefer I wasn’t the centre of attention” – Alistair Clarkson
“I’ve been on the front page and back page of the paper but I’d much prefer I wasn’t the centre of attention,” he says.
“If Collingwood is playing Carlton at the MCG this Friday night, I’ll jump on the train at North Brighton station and be with a packed trainload of Carlton and Collingwood supporters, going in to watch a game of footy – just like they’re going to watch it. I really enjoy that.”
Clarkson loves what he does, but knows it won’t last forever – nor does he want it to.
“I don’t see myself coaching when I’m sixty years old,” he says.
“I’ll hand the job over to someone else and then somewhere in my twilight years assist someone else. Is Luke Hodge going to be a coach? I don’t know but if Hodgey ever became a coach, I’d love to be in the background helping him somehow
“I’ll never be able to pull myself away from the passion I’ve got for the game so I’ll always be involved in some capacity, but I don’t think I’ll still be doing the same role that I’m doing now in 15 or 20 years time.”
The former North Melbourne and Melbourne player knows that in order to maintain an involvement with football, it’s important to keep things in perspective. His relatively positive reflection on last year’s Grand Final loss is one such example.
“I tried to articulate as best I could – to our players and the wider footy community after the game – that, you know, we lost the Grand Final but our season was enormously successful,” he says.
“We were so close and we had our opportunities and we didn’t take them, and we’re disappointed with that. But some of the things that happened worldwide – you know, firefighters fighting a fire in Arizona earlier this week and 19 perish? That’s low. That’s when life doesn’t seem fair.
“Losing a grand final? It’s disappointing, but you recover pretty quickly, and we have.”
Whenever Clarkson needs something to put coaching into perspective, he looks to his family.
“The time that I spend with my kids is really special to me,” he says.
With a smile, he adds that even then his love for the game shines through.
“When we get home at night-time and there’s a choice between unpacking the dishwasher and having a kick of the footy with my son, the kick of the footy always wins out.”