AFL: Alastair Clarkson says Hawthorn preparation ‘unemotional’

Alastair Clarkson says “there’s been a lot of water flow under the bridge” as he prepares to lock horns with former club Hawthorn for the second time in his coaching career.

North Melbourne will be bolstered by the return of Cam Zurhaar from a calf complaint as it looks to register its first win of the season against the Hawks at Marvel Stadium on Sunday.

Clarkson said there was an obvious symmetry between the Kangaroos and Hawks but maintained he had one eye on the long-term even though the loser of the clash would be marooned at the foot of the ladder.

After playing three of last year’s preliminary finalists along with Geelong in their first five games, Clarkson said the Roos were excited to assess themselves against less established teams over the next month.

“We had a really good summer, and we’re disappointed with zero and five, but probably to the wider footy world it’s no great surprise – we’ve come up against some really good sides,” he said.

“So what we’re looking forward to is over the next five to six weeks, we’re playing against some sides that will give us a better indication of where we’re at.

“One of those sides is Hawthorn, who are also 0-5, they’re in a same sort of phase as us, trying to get a lot of time and exposure into their younger players and give them opportunity.”

Clarkson’s relationship with Hawthorn has been strained since his abrupt departure as senior coach in 2021 and the subsequent botched club investigation into historical allegations of racist behaviour, which he has categorically denied.

He said his preparation for the encounter had to be “unemotional”.

“There’s been a lot of water flow under the bridge, I’m well and truly established here and they’ve got on with their footy club and what they need to do too,” he said.

“As much as it might seem unemotional, it just has to be faceless, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Hawthorn or Geelong or whoever the opponent is.

“Both of these clubs are in a really difficult phase of having one eye on the future and one eye on the now.

“The football world wants to make a big thing perhaps of the result of this week’s game … the result really is only just a small thing, it’s about where we want to be in two or three years’ time.”

Clarkson said Zurhaar, who has been battling calf tightness over the past fortnight, would play after training strongly at Arden Street on Friday.

He said No.2 pick Colby McKercher would also be fine to continue in the senior side, having trained fully since Tuesday after he was hospitalised with breathing difficulties following a heavy collision with Geelong’s Jeremy Cameron.

“He got rattled in a pretty solid collision, and it just affected his breathing more than anything, which is a little bit frightening for him and us, and that’s why he needed to go and get checked (at hospital),” Clarkson said.

“There’s no real structural damage, which we thought was the case – my immediate fear was he was going to miss this week, but by Tuesday he was right to train … he’s right to go.”

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