Alastair Clarkson is often dubbed ‘the master coach’.
North Melbourne securing his signature for the next five years is significant for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest is quite simple: Only ‘the master coach’ might be able to fix a club that is as broken on-field as any in recent history.
When Clarkson’s contract commences on November 1, there’ll be no shortage of work to be done.
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When it comes to the on-field, saying Clarkson has a mountain of work to do would be an understatement.
The numbers North Melbourne has put up this season are staggering, with many areas actually receding from 2021 despite the expectation being incremental improvement in the rebuild.
This season, North Melbourne is the worst side in the competition in many areas.
Key among them? Points for, points against, kicking efficiency differential, inside 50 differential, time in forward-half differential, possession gains in forward half and scores per inside 50.
They’re just some of 17 key Champion Data statistics the Roos rank last in.
North Melbourne is playing a more stoppage-heavy game in 2022, but it isn’t exactly amounting to much.
The Roos are on track to finish 2022 having put together one of the worst seasons in recent memory.
There’s so much to refine and it’s unlikely even Clarkson will be able to fix everything wrong for 2023.
He’ll get to work though and get to work quickly.
From a list standpoint, there are plenty of judgment calls Clarkson and his incoming lieutenants will now be tasked with making.
Cameron Zurhaar has been well and truly up for grabs for rival clubs and, ironically, Essendon is one of the sides that has shown interest in the 24-year-old.
The bulk of the club’s forward hopes rest on Nick Larkey’s shoulders at the moment and he has shown more than enough to suggest he’ll repay the faith.
Larkey will be at the club until at least the end of 2024, but focus now turns to Zurhaar, who put contract talks on hold earlier in the season and as keen to see what the club’s direction looked like after David Noble’s tenure.
It’s hard to imagine a more promising sign for the future than the arrival of Clarkson.
Then there’s Jason Horne-Francis.
Last season’s number one draft pick has had mixed fortunes in his first year at North Melbourne.
His considerable talent is clear, but his competitive streak has at times boiled over on the field, resulting in some stern words from more senior teammates, while off the field he has at times not followed processes to the letter like players are expected to.
None of this is unique to any 19-year-old, but the spotlight is considerably brighter on Horne-Francis than it is on most given the struggles North Melbourne has endured as a whole this year.
That, coupled with links back to South Australia, have at times festered to create uncertainty around his long-term future at North Melbourne.
You suspect one of the first things Clarkson does as coach – if he hasn’t already – is sit down with Horne-Francis and discuss how important he is to the side long-term and offer a clean slate for 2023 and beyond.
Coupled with the existing talent at Clarkson’s disposal is the talent at other clubs and whether he opts to aggressively pursue established players to lure across like he did so often during his tenure at Hawthorn – sometimes to the chagrin of senior officials around him in his later years there.
North Melbourne has reportedly shown interest in Brad Hill, but the fact he has two years to run on a lucrative contract means a half-decent draft pick would have to go out the door in order to bring Hill in.
Working in the Roos’ favour is the fact St Kilda may well be willing to part ways with some of its big-name players depending on the results of its ongoing football review, which is being participated in by Clarkson’s predecessor in David Noble.
A more risk-averse strategy would be for Clarkson to go after some of his former charges, key among them Jack Gunston, who was one of several players dismayed by the way the Hawks treated Clarkson on the way out.
The prospect of Gunston working alongside Larkey for a year or two is tantalising and could well appeal to Zurhaar as well.
Some crunch list calls also loom on players soon to come out of contract, but Clarkson proved in his final years at Hawthorn he wasn’t afraid to make hard calls on veterans – sometimes perhaps too hard.
From a draft standpoint, the Roos are set to be granted at least one priority pick, so their draft hand will be improved beyond the first pick they’re likely to finish the season with.
Will Ashcroft is off the table given he has nominated Brisbane as expected, so the focus turns to the rest of the draft crop.
There’s no shortage of work to be done at North Melbourne – a club that from an on-field standpoint is virtually the antithesis of a quick fix.
Now that they have who many consider to be the best man for the job, there are no excuses.
Clarkson is in it for the long haul. He may well have to be.
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