Everyone has heard the soundbite or seen the clip of Alastair Clarkson’s dig at Tom Papley. Clarkson is often given a lot of extra slack owing to his vast experience and unmatched success, but in this case he was undignified and wrong and needs to be held to account.
On AFL 360 on Monday Mark Robinson asked Clarko why he said Papley “milks a free kick” and graciously gave the venerated Hawthorn coach a chance to explain himself or apologise for the comment. Clarkson decided to say that he “would have chosen [his] words” better if not for the stress of having an interview so soon after the match ended.
Robbo accepted the response and took the conversation in a different direction. That was the wrong move and disappointing from such a seasoned journo.
If “milks a free kick” was not the phrase Clarkson meant to use, then for goodness sake what words would he have chosen? What exactly was he accusing Papley of doing? That should have been Mark’s next question.
Clarkson has been a coach for more than a decade and has seen the highest of highs and some pretty low points too. He’s given hundreds of post-match pressers after winning and losing. He knows better than to take cheap shots at opposition players. He knows how to deal with stress and frustration. So to blame the heat of the moment and simply he chose the wrong words is dissembling and beneath him.
The bigger issue here, though, is Clarko is also just plain wrong. To accuse a player of milking a free kick implies to me some sort of staging or manipulation. But watch the vision. The free kick is obviously there. Papley was shoved to the ground in the back with significant force. It wasn’t a dive. He didn’t whine to the umpire.
The player Clarkson should be upset at is James Frawley, whose unnecessary blindside bump gave away the free kick.
Clarkson could have taken the opportunity to join the conversation about the disheartening trend among players to trash talk opposition players. In this case Papley was acting pretty cocky after his goal and was apparently having a go at Tom Mitchell, possibly because they used to be teammates. So the topic of taunting would be relevant, and it’s a broader issue worth discussing. Clarkson didn’t even mention that, though.
The bottom line is Alastair Clarkson had no business saying anything about Tom Papley getting a completely warranted free kick. He is an experienced coach with no excuses for such behaviour.
Clarkson should hold himself to a higher standard and the AFL and media should call him out for failing to meet it.