‘Unholy mess’ within AFL coach’s mysterious exit

Hawthorn was reportedly a mess right up until the hours before Alastair Clarkson announced his decision to step down at the end of 2021.

It played out behind the scenes last week before it was announced Clarkson will move on one year earlier than planned from an arranged coaching succession plan with Sam Mitchell.

The decision came despite previous emphatic insistence from the club that all parties were at peace with the move and committed to seeing it through until the end of 2022 against speculation otherwise.

Now it has been revealed the Hawks were involved in negotiations as late as Friday morning after the club made the decision to pull the pin on the failed coaching succession plan.

Veteran AFL journalist Caroline Wilson reported it was the Hawthorn playing group that finally forced the club to make the tough decision following weeks of uncertainty surrounding the club’s future.

Mitchell is also reported to have told Clarkson and football officials that he wanted “clean air” to take over the senior role.

“The players made it clear that they were struggling with the new arrangement and Alastair Clarkson agreed with them,” Wilson said.

“Alastair Clarkson then went to Richy Vandenberg, the football director and told him that he just did not think this was going to work. The players basically said to Alastair, ‘We can’t have two coaches’.

Alastair Clarkson congratulates the players on the win during the round 19 AFL match between Hawthorn Hawks and Brisbane Lions.Source:Getty Images

She said on Channel 9’s Footy Classified on Monday night the Wednesday meeting became emotional for senior players as the decision was confirmed at board level on Thursday before Friday’s announcement.

“What we saw on Friday was an unholy mess of debate, of debate, argy-bargy and negotiating,” she said.

“Obviously the deal was done to pay out Alastair Clarkson $900,000 over two years.”

Former Port Adelaide star Kane Cornes said the saga leaves Clarkson looking worse for wear after weeks of denials about his potential premature exit.

“I just can’t believe anything he says anymore,” he said.

“Caro, you said on Friday that he’d been thinking about it for three weeks – so it was about money. So then don’t sell it to us that it was all for the benefit of the club.”

He said Clarkson’s reported payout of $900,000 over two seasons leaves a “hole” in the club’s football department soft cap.

It was reported just days before the announcement Clarkson was refusing to walk early while remaining under contract for 15 more months.

Footy legend Garry Lyon responded to the reports on Wednesday by saying:

“I don’t know that Sam Mitchell has said ‘I want (Alastair) Clarkson gone and I want to be the coach on my own.’ That’s what’s been reported,” he said on SEN Radio.

“If that’s a statement of fact, my opinion is Sam Mitchell is not the man to coach Hawthorn, or your football club.”

Hawthorn great Jason Dunstall earlier this month criticised the Hawks’ decision and predicted the situation would get “messy”.

Dunstall, who won four premierships with Hawthorn, said he was “gobsmacked” when he heard the shock news on Tuesday.

Club champion Dermott Brereton also said last week there was a “seismic shift” within the club.

“The goal posts have been moved sometime I would say in the last 48 to 72 hours,” the five-time premiership Hawks.

“Somebody has had a seismic shift, because everybody was on the same page up until this last 72 hours. Somebody has decided: ‘No this is not the way forward for me and/or the organisation.

“I can tell you right now as we went past last weekend, on Monday, everything was the way it had been set out.”

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