The winners, losers, and mess left behind in the hunt for Alastair Clarkson

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As the refrains of “he’s coming home” echoed throughout Arden Street after Alastair Clarkson was announced as North Melbourne’s new coach, over at Windy Hill north — otherwise known as Tullamarine — things were imploding at Essendon.

New president David Barham stumbled through a press conference that had been a gilt-edged opportunity to back Ben Rutten as their senior coach, but instead left Bombers fans clutching at both their jaw and their guts following the one-two punch of both bad news and bad messaging.

But is there any good news at Essendon? Is there hope they can bounce back from a season that started with Mick Malthouse predicting they would win the flag? Will the Clarkson appointment even work for North Melbourne?

Let’s start with the biggest name in all of this.


The Clarkson factor

As much as the Clarkson appointment can be seen as an on-field victory for North Melbourne given his Hawthorn pedigree, the public relations win is a rare Aaron Edwards-like screamer for a club that’s most often associated with the noise ‘meh’.

When the Kangaroos went through their conscious uncoupling with David Noble as coach in July after a string of 14 losses, there were reasonable objections around the decision.

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Noble had been a long-term idea. Rather than being the interior decorator that was there to pick the ash or the charcoal tile for the second bathroom, Noble was at North Melbourne as a no bullshit chippie, who was there to lay the slab and start building the foundations. Wins on paper were meaningless, as long as the losses came with a sprinkle of hope.

Alastair Clarkson holds the 2015 premiership cup aloft with Hawks captain Luke Hodge.(Getty Images)

But after a 112-point demolition at the hands of Geelong at Kardinia Park, the home-owners decided it was a tear-down job.

They didn’t want a chippie. They wanted an architect.

And Clarkson was quietly sitting off-site with his blueprint ready to go.

When the announcement was made, North Melbourne fans and non-Essendon fans with a soft spot for the Shinboners jointly celebrated.

The Kangaroos had made a very non-North Melbourne decision. Bold. Confident. Big.

The on-field impact is yet to be seen, but the marketing impact was immediate.

Will the whole Clarkson thing get results?

As it stands right now, only Michael Voss at Carlton and Brett Ratten at St Kilda have been head coach at other clubs before the team they’re currently at.

Unlike the merry-go-rounds of years gone by, this crop of coaches has wandered into the AFL carnival and taken a quiet stroll down Sideshow Alley, hurling the occasional ball at a clown here or there and mostly avoiding the rides that could bring back the Dagwood Dog from the dead.

But Clarkson’s appointment itself is less stomach-churning thrill ride than it is a gentle tumble around the teacups.

This is all preparation for what’s to come.

On the back of just nine wins over the past 60 games, Clarkson is treading the well-worn path of a veteran coach taking a young list and setting them up for success.

Ron Barassi
Ron Barassi talks to his Sydney players during a match against Hawthorn in 1993. The Swans would lose by 93 points.(Getty Images)

The legendary Ron Barassi joined the Sydney Swans in 1993 and registered one victory. In 1994, it was four wins. In 1995, he had doubled it to eight.

By the time Rodney Eade took over construction in 1996, Sydney had reached the grand final, and were on track to become one of the most consistently high-performing teams over the next 25 years.

It’s also a role Paul Roos executed perfectly at Melbourne from 2014 to 2016 before the Demons snatched their drought-breaking flag in 2021 — but Roos inherited a strong list of high draft picks and potential.

Will Clarkson benefit from the same set up?

The North Melbourne list

In the words of ABC Sport’s Cody Atkinson and Sean Lawson, patience is the key at North Melbourne for several reasons — including a pretty rubbish draft hand.

“The players North Melbourne have drafted have performed at roughly the level expected of their draft positions over their careers to date, with a handful of clear successes and failures,” they wrote in this excellent article from May.

“The Kangaroos have not drafted and developed their talent badly, but they have lacked sheer draft capital in this time.

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