AFL master takes on ex-apprentice

Alastair Clarkson, ex-school teacher, is such a good educator that it might now cost him an AFL premiership.

One of the most fascinating sub-plots of Saturday’s grand final is the rival senior coaches.

Adam Simpson spent four years as an assistant under Clarkson at Hawthorn before taking over at West Coast.

Just two years later, it’s master v former apprentice in the biggest game of the year.

It was inevitable that Clarkson would eventually coach in a grand final against one of his former assistants.

His two great AFL passions are winning flags and developing the people who work with him.

It’s arguable which one the three-time premiership coach does better.

The Clarkson coaching alumni is remarkable – with Brendon Bolton’s appointment at Carlton, five current senior coaches cut their teeth under him at Hawthorn.

And three of them – Simpson, Luke Beveridge (Western Bulldogs) and Damien Hardwick (Richmond) – led their teams into this year’s finals series.

The other is Leon Cameron at GWS, who also made big improvements this season.

But it still rare for one AFL grand final coach to have worked so closely with the other.

Since the league went full-time in the 1990s and assistant coaches proliferated club football departments, grand finals have remained more about coaching rivalries.

Think Leigh Matthews v Mick Malthouse, or Mark Thompson v Mark Williams.

The one that comes closest to this Saturday was when Essendon beat Melbourne for the 2000 premiership.

Neale Daniher had worked under Kevin Sheedy at Essendon before coaching the Demons.

Clarkson is far from fussed that his former assistants are having so much success.

It is more confirmation for him that the Hawthorn system works.

“If you invest in people and give them your heart and soul, they’ll pay enormous dividends in return for that,” Clarkson said this week.

“The acknowledgment for us is guys like Bolts, Bevo, Simmo, Dimma has done a great job at the Tigers, and also Leon – we get enormous satisfaction and pride with the development of those people.”

Clarkson laughed at Tuesday’s AFL coaches association awards dinner when asked if having worked closely with these rival coaches gave him an edge over them.

“I’d like to think so, but they probably know me better than I know them,” he said.

“They’re probably analysing me – they’re learning and wanting to be mentored and judging everything that you do.

“And I make plenty of errors.

“But they’re also judging things you do well, too.”

Beveridge said there were many reasons why Clarkson’s reign had produced so many senior coaches.

“He brings the program together and allows people to influence it,” Beveridge said.

“There’s no doubt we (assistant coaches) have all learned a helluva lot of things – not just from Clarko, but guys like Chris Fagan, David Rath, definitely each other, and really importantly, the players.

“In many ways the players can teach the coaches some tricks as well – how to manage a really sophisticated and mature group as well as filtering through the youth.

“It’s a real cauldron of ideas and energy, the Hawks, really well-run, and we’re all fortunate to have gone through there.”

Beveridge said for all his own ideas, he took plenty from how Clarkson and Fagan, Hawthorn’s football director, ran the ship.

“You get an idea of a what a well-oiled machine looks like,” he said.

“That really has an effect on you.

“There are always things you think you might do a bit differently.

“But that really is a strong template for week to week, month to month, year to year approaches.”

The only downside is the timing of when the assistants leave to coach rival clubs.

It was an issue again a few weeks ago, when the Hawks had to negotiate with Bolton and Carlton as the finals loomed.

“It’s about timing, so losing Brendan two weeks prior to the finals series, that’s just a disruption,” said Hawks chief executive Stuart Fox.

“We’ve been able to manage it and because we have experience with it now, I think we did it pretty well.”

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