Alastair Clarkson glad ‘circus’ is over as North Melbourne get their man

AFL coach Alastair Clarkson is relieved the “circus” is over and is excited about trying to lift battling North Melbourne back up the ladder. Clarkson ended fierce speculation over his future by confirming on Friday he would return to the club where he began his playing career back in 1987.

The four-time Hawthorn premiership coach will lead the Kangaroos for the next five seasons, after taking a year off following his exit from the Hawks at the end of 2021. After weeks of negotiating exclusively with Clarkson, North had to contend with an audacious late bid from Essendon this week.

But Clarkson turned down the late interest from the Bombers, saying he only took the call from new Essendon president David Barham out of respect. He admits the Bombers left their offer too late and was excited about taking on arguably the biggest challenge in the AFL.

“This just felt right and I feel really, really comfortable in this environment,” Clarkson said at Arden St on Friday about his decision to choose North. “I was aware it was becoming a circus and I hate being the centre of attention. I don’t like the fact, in essence, you take hostage to the game until a decision is made.”

The 54-year-old will start with North on 1 November, taking over from interim coach Leigh Adams. Clarkson will be the club’s fourth full-time coach in five years, following on from David Noble (2021-22), Rhyce Shaw (2020) and Brad Scott (2010-19). Noble was sacked in July after just five wins from 38 games, with North then deciding they needed an experienced coach after two first-time AFL leaders.

Clarkson coached Hawthorn for 17 seasons, leading the Hawks to premierships in 2008 and the 2013-15 three-peat. He departed Hawthorn in August 2021, a year before his contract was due to expire, following a messy coaching succession plan to former Hawks champion Sam Mitchell.

Clarkson met with North and GWS, before this week telling the Giants he wanted to remain in Melbourne instead of relocating to Sydney. He insists North are in a better position than pundits realise, as the Kangaroos to try to avoid a second straight wooden spoon when they host Gold Coast on Saturday.

“We need to fill some holes and we’ll build that over a period of time, but some hard work has already been done in that space,” Clarkson said. “Even though the results aren’t being shown on the field at the present time, I’m not of the view it’s going to be a 10-year turnaround.”

North president Sonja Hood has been instrumental in the discussions with Clarkson and he paid tribute to her involvement in the process. Hood was delighted to secure Clarkson, who follows in the footsteps of his idol and fellow Hawthorn legend John Kennedy Sr. Kennedy led the Hawks to the club’s first three VFL premierships in 1961, 1971 and 1976, before coaching North between 1985 and 1989.

“This is a real watershed moment for our club and I am writing to share it with members first – we’ll talk to media later today, but for now this is a moment for all of us,” Hood said. “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. Today is a good day. Alastair’s coming home – to our home.”