When it comes to their teams, these coaches know them better than anyone else. They're intimately familiar with their teams' strengths and weaknesses, recruitment strategy and game plan. They know all of their players, how to talk to them, motivate and get the best out of them. But more importantly, they're both extremely successful coaches in an era that's extremely competitive, that's very difficult to have success.
However, success for both of these coaches currently appears to be beyond their grasp, with their teams languishing in the bottom two of the AFL. The once mighty, powerful, all-conquering Hawks, winners of four premierships from 2008 to 2015, have been belted off the park by teams more recently found inhabiting the lower reaches of the AFL ladder. The Swans have struggled just as much, but where they've been more competitive, they've also failed to find ways to win. They've dropped winning positions against the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood, while being within a kick against the West Coast Eagles and Blues.
Both teams have an extremely impressive record since 2012, either team featuring in the last 5 grand finals, twice playing each other. The Hawks won 3 in a row from 2013, while the Swans won 2012 and lost 2014 and 2016. The salary cap balancing act ultimately catches up with everyone, and while success begets success, it demands improved financial terms for star players, as well as handicapping teams at the draft.
The introduction of free agency helped the Hawks and Swans stay at the top, along with canny recruiting of cast-aways (not in the Hawks' case) and lucky late picks in the draft. While the Swans have taken the youth path, quickly regenerating their list over the last two seasons, the Hawks tried to stick with mature recruits, top ups and trades, foolishly throwing away their first round pick to St Kilda to get O'Meara, which will almost certainly be a top 3 pick.
The Swans have been lucky to escape harsh criticism for their lacksidasical and disappointing efforts, while the Hawks have been hammered in all quarters. Clarkson has always been a lightning rod for fans and journalists alike, a barometer of the publics' opinion of the Hawks, whether or not it's appropriate. His fiery, aggressive personality certainly doesn't help sway public opinion into the affirmative, nor does his passion and reverence for his team. It spills over into the public circuit, becomes a hot topic of discussion, the latest gossip, drama and scandal; nothing that can help a football club or a leader do what they're paid to do - lead.
This season however, the vitriol has been turned up to maximum, a long building crescendo that has almost reached its climax, with Clarkson smack bang in the middle. His passion has been questioned, his talent, skill and knowledge has been dissected, and his ability doubted. People forget that he took a struggling team to a premiership in a matter of years, and kept them close to the top before they won 3 premierships in a row.
Open any newspaper, go to Real Footy or Super Footy, listen to Triple M, hear anything from Wayne Carey or Matthew Lloyd's mouth, even Paul Roos has put his foot in it, and they're all saying the same thing - he's just not cut out to turn it around. All due credit to Roos' though, he's talked about whether or not Clarkson has the desire to turn it around, or would rather have a change of scenery.
The Swans are fortunate to be out of the AFL fishbowl market, content in the knowledge that they can avoid the scrutiny and unrelenting miss-informed, biased and totally wrong opinion, commentary and occasionally offensive assertions. But the Swans are not without their own demons, and there's certainly a tendency for their own fan base to turn on the club with such viciousness, it belies belief. Some of the things I've read on message forums, social media platforms, or have heard fans talk about in casual meet ups, and at the games is both concerning and baffling. The desire for the fans to do away with John Longmire is quite possibly the most confusing and ill considered argument I've encountered, especially given to continued success of the team.
Just imagine this - the Hawks lose this weekend to the Demons, and suddenly fire Clarkson. It would be inconceivable to almost all of those outside the club, casual football fans, but for those in the media it would be like sharks to whale, circling until they can get that sound bite, that comment, that quote that makes their career. Then imagine the Swans lose to Lions, and they suddenly sack Longmire. There's going to be a section of the fanbase that'll be happy, but you'd expect that almost every casual football supporter, along with most Swans supports and almost all of the media commentators would be shocked.
The criticism on the coaches certainly stems from expectations that are so incredibly high, from a supporter base that's used to success and hungry for more. Success in football is measured by premierships. No one cares, nor should they, who won the minor premiership if they didn't win the premiership.
Watching Clarkson lose his mind over insignificant issues is an indicator that he's still human. There's a distinct lack of accountability in today's sports media. Having ex-players like Matthew Lloyd, Johnathon Brown and Wayne Carey appear on television, radio and write columns for online and print media, compounds the problem. They're untrained journalists, merely former professional athletes paid to speak their mind, generating supposed 'expert opinion' content that reads little better than your average high school student's insight. But they don't know the impact of their words, their articles, their interviews have on people, professional organisations, clubs, coaches and their support staff. Sitting atop their ivory towers, shouting down at the masses with impunity, "be gone from my sight, heathen", it generates opinion and clicks, but serves little else.
Clarkson recently took Carey to task for generating unfounded rumours of Cyril Rioli's desire to quit AFL. Clarkson's spray caused Carey to rethink his position in the media, as an analyst rather than a news breaker.
“What a load of rubbish. Once again, no account, no account by a bloke who should know better than throw up bull---- about our players,” Clarkson said on Triple M on Sunday night.
“Hold some of these people to account because the hysteria that it creates is just absolute rubbish.
“Particularly Carey, of all people … he shouldn’t make too many comments about stories about other players because we could just go to town on him.”
Even after the beat-down, former St Kilda champion Nathan Burke took to radio to accuse Clarkson of waging a war against fake news, acting like Donald Trump.
“Clarko is the Donald Trump of AFL football,” Burke said.
“He’s waging a one-man war against fake news. He’s lined up Mark Robinson, Jonny Ralph, he had a go at Wayne Carey. Apparently he and Wayne sat down this morning and had a cup of coffee, and Wayne very, very sheepishly said now he’s going to stick to special comments and leave the news breaking to the journos.”
When respected journalists like Gerald Healy, Gerard Whately and Caroline Wilson speak their mind, people listen. Footballers and coaches don't get angry because its not opinionated. It's objective content that's supposed to generate conversation, not lead a conversation. Not like Damian Barrett and his unrelenting, and highly inappropriate pursuit of Western Bulldogs' coach, Luke Beveridge.
There needs to be more accountability in today's sports media, and it has to start from somewhere. Fans have the right to speak their mind and voice their opinion in an honest and frank manner. It's what makes this sport the greatest spectator sport in the world. Individuals involved in media publications have an obligation to report facts, not make up facts, to be respectful, honest and sincere. Yet, arrogance and immorality, unethical behaviour and almost no accountability and respect for the process, or the industry itself, simmers below the surface. When untrained media personalities masquerading as journalists start generating content, their words do far more damage than the casual punter.
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