Alastair Clarkson press conference: New North Melbourne coach 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 contract celebrated as a homecoming by the club.

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

Clarkson shared his regret that a “good man” in Bombers coach Ben Rutten, under contract for 2023, was caught up in the “circus”.

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

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

“There were guys there like Tim Watson and Dave Barham, who I have a lot of respect for. I would be foolish not to explore it if it was there. The circumstances were a bit unsavory, to be fair, but that’s the environment we sometimes live in. It’s a brutal and unforgiving game.

“I met David Barham briefly on Tuesday. We were so far down the track with the North Melbourne and GWS decision that this whole process came way too late to seriously think about it.

“They were a great club and it was really out of respect for these people that I had to thank them with dignity for at least listening to what they had to say.

“But the due diligence to consider coaching a club takes me well over four days. I just ran out of time. Different circumstances, different times, who knows, but this one (North Melbourne) suited me just fine.

Sonja Hood, chairman of North Melbourne, and new coach Alastair Clarkson laugh during a press conference at Arden Street Oval. Credit: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Clarkson had opened his first presser with a moving story about his connection to Arden St.

The four-time premiership winner began his VFL/AFL playing career at 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 North Melbourne Football Club in terms of the start of a new chapter in their history, which always seems to be the case when a new manager arrives.

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

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

“I have such fond memories of what this club has done for me during my journey.

“I remember as a child of nine, the first time I came to Melbourne was to watch the 1977 grand final, which ended in a draw between North Melbourne and Collingwood.”

Young Clarkson received a football won in a coin toss.

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

Clarkson said signing to coach the Kangaroos feels like reciprocating when the club backed him after his brother died in a car accident.

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

“Maybe the shoe is on the other foot at the moment when this club needs support and help.

“It was crucial for us to make the decision to come back and help the club, to help them get back on track. It’s an exciting time to be involved with the club.

Essendon chairman responds after Clarkson chooses North Melbourne

Essendon chairman responds after Clarkson chooses North Melbourne

In anticipation of 2023

The appointment comes just months after Clarkson was widely tipped to join the Gold Coast Suns as a replacement for former protege Stuart Dew.

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

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

The coach will struggle to earn a flag in his fourth year, like he did at Hawthorn in 2008, but the closet is not empty.

Cam Zurhaar is yet to be signed for 2023 but is shaping up to be a showpiece alongside Nick Larkey, while there is plenty of talent in midfield – led by improving Luke Davies-Uniacke and Jy Simpkin.

“It felt right to me. I feel really comfortable in that environment,” Clarkson said.

“It’s been a tough year, but there’s real optimism about where we can go.

“Alignment through chairman, CEO, chief football officer, coach and captain is the important thing I always look for in a football club.

“We have to fill some holes in the side and we will do that over a period of time… but I don’t think it will be a 10-year turnaround.”

Clarkson pointed to the turnovers at Carlton and Collingwood this year under their new coaches as a motivating factor.

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