Clarkson ready to coach in AFL again

The worst moment for Alastair Clarkson was that half-hour period when no-one could explain what was wrong with him.


Just over a month after the Monday night when he was diagnosed with the rare Guillain-Barre Syndrome, the Hawthorn coach has received a full bill of health and is ready to resume all his AFL duties.

But this milestone seemed light years away in late May when Clarkson first went to hospital for tests.

Earlier in the day, captain Luke Hodge and Jarryd Roughead had noticed Clarkson was not walking properly.

“A little bit like what you’d expect after a big night on the turps,” Clarkson said.

His back had been sore and Clarkson thought some nerve damage was causing the wonky feeling.

“When they dismissed that, when I was in the MRI machine that evening, then a whole range of things go through your mind,” he said.

“What could it be if it’s not going to be the lower back?

“That wasn’t a great space to be in.”

But almost immediately, Clarkson’s situation improved.

Neurosurgeon and Hawthorn board member Andrew Kaye was able to bring in specialists who reassured Clarkson that he had a low-grade form of the syndrome.

“From what they could gather, it was a reasonably mild form, but I needed to respect it,” he said.

Clarkson said apart from the initial fear, the worst period was the first week when his absence meant an overhaul of Hawthorn’s football operations.

Everyone had to step up, with assistant Brendon Bolton taking over as interim head coach.

Despite their injuries, Hawthorn have won the five games since and on Sunday returned to top of the ladder.

Clarkson said even if he had been forced out for a year, he knew the club was in good hands.

“That patience game hasn’t really been one of my virtues over the journey,” said Clarkson, who is notorious for his temper.

“It was really comforting to know the club was working like clockwork in my absence.

“So it just meant I could be as patient as I needed to be to get this illness in control.”

Clarkson added with a smile that he had surprised himself with how patient he was able to be during his time out.

Clarkson also knows how lucky he is.

He said one positive outcome of his health scare is that people know more about the syndrome.

Clarkson only had to deal with pins and needles in his feet that lasted for four weeks.

Some sufferers are stricken for years and have to deal with severe complications that can be life-threatening.

“I’ve had the mildest of mild doses … and it knocked me about,” he said.

While rapt with how the club operated in his absence, Clarkson admits it has been tough for everyone at Hawthorn.

“We haven’t been playing our most scintillating footy, but we’ve had significant (injury) disruptions to our group,” Clarkson said.

“We’ve worked really well over the last five or six weeks in my absence, but it’s hardly ideal.

“It does cause a bit of disruption.

“So for our club to have five victories in the time I’ve been away has been absolutely first-class.”