Alastair Clarkson press conference: New North Melbourne manager explains why he chose to snub Essendon in the AFL

Alastair Clarkson officially returns to the AFL coaching ranks, joining North Melbourne on a five-year deal being hailed as a homecoming by the club.

Now the four-time AFL Premiership winner has explained why he moved to Arden Street from Essendon despite a late charge.

Watch Clarkson explain his emotional connection to North Melbourne

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Clarkson shared his regret that a “good man” in Bombers coach Ben Rutten, who is signed for 2023, had become involved in the “circus”.

But he admitted Essendon had also entered the conversation too late to be a serious player for his services in the race between North and GWS.

“It’s football, you can’t control it. That came from left field and probably out of respect for the club I had to listen to what they had to say,” Clarkson said of the Dons.

“There were guys like Tim Watson and Dave Barham who I respect a lot. I would be stupid not to explore it if it were there. Circumstances were a bit uncomfortable, to be fair, but that’s the environment we live in sometimes. It’s a brutal and ruthless game.

“I met briefly with David Barham on Tuesday. We were just so far along with North Melbourne and GWS’ decision that the whole process came way too late to give it any serious thought.

“They were a great club and it was really out of respect for those people that I had to pay that back in a dignified way to at least listen to what they had to say.

“But the due diligence to actually consider coaching a club takes a hell of a lot more than four days for me. I just ran out of time. Different circumstances, different time, who knows, but this (North Melbourne) suited me perfectly.”

North Melbourne President Sonja Hood and new coach Alastair Clarkson laugh during a media conference at Arden Street Oval. Recognition: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Clarkson had his first press with an emotional story about his connection to Arden St.

The four-time Premiership winner began his VFL/AFL playing career with the Kangaroos 10 years after the club first helped him fall in love with football as a boy.

“It’s an exciting day for me and my family,” he told reporters on Friday.

“I’m sure it’s an exciting day for the North Melbourne Footy Club as it looks to begin a new chapter in its history, which always seems to be the case when a new coach arrives.

Alastair Clarkson has agreed to coach North Melbourne for the next five seasons, which officially begin on November 1, 2022. Recognition: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

“But I have so many wonderful memories of this place and it has changed a bit since I was last here, I might add. The facilities are a bit sharper than the old Norse room when I played my football at the club.

“I have such fond memories of what this club did for me on my journey.

“I can remember coming to Melbourne as a nine-year-old kid to see the grand final in 1977, which ended up being a draw between North Melbourne and Collingwood.”

Young Clarkson received a football won in a raffle.

“I was on that oval and I kicked the foot. That’s where I fell in love with the game,” he said.

Clarkson said being signed to coach the Kangaroos felt like returning the favor when the club supported him after his brother died in a car accident.

“When it comes time to make important decisions like this, you think back to moments in my life when you needed support and this club gave it to me,” he said.

“Maybe the shoe is on the other foot right now where this club needs some support and help.

“That was pivotal in our decision to come back and help the club get back on track. It is an exciting time to be involved with the club.”

Essendon President responds after Clarkson votes North Melbourne

Essendon President responds after Clarkson votes North Melbourne

Looking ahead to 2023

The appointment comes just months after Clarkson was widely advised to join the Gold Coast Suns as a replacement for his former protégé, Stuart Dew.

That conversation was put to bed when the Suns’ improved form earned Dew a new contract and coincided with an opening with the GWS Giants.

But Clarkson will instead stay in Victoria and pick the Kangaroos, who are at their lowest in some time after just nine wins from their last 60 games.

The coach will struggle to win a flag in his fourth year like he did at Hawthorn in 2008, but the cupboard isn’t empty.

Cam Zurhaar is yet to be signed for 2023 but takes center stage alongside Nick Larkey, while there is ample talent in midfield – led by improving Luke Davies-Uniacke and Jy Simpkin.

“It just felt right. I’m very comfortable in this environment,” Clarkson said.

“It’s been a tough year but we’re very optimistic about where we can go.

“The direction from the president, the CEO, the general manager of football, the coach and the captain is the most important thing I always look for in a football club.

“We’ve got some holes in the page to fill, and we’ll do that over a period of time…but I don’t think it’s going to be a 10-year turnaround.”

Clarkson cited the turnarounds at Carlton and Collingwood that year under their new coaches as a motivating factor. Alastair Clarkson press conference: New North Melbourne manager explains why he chose to snub Essendon in the AFL

James Brien

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