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Clarko vows to assist young defender

Marc McGowan  April 13, 2018 12:08 PM

Pre-R4: Clarkson talks taking on the Dees Alastair Clarkson spoke to the media about the challenge of taking on the Demons this weekend.

The popular belief that Hawthorn defender James Sicily plays his best football "on the edge" is not shared by his coach Alastair Clarkson.

Sicily will return from a one-week ban against Melbourne at the MCG on Sunday.

His impressive rise from inconsistent forward to intercepting defender last year, along with his reputation as a fiery customer, has made him one of the most talked about players in the game.

Sicily's temper flares during matches is just part of his wider learning curve, according to Clarkson.

"I don't think he actually plays his best footy when he is on the edge," Clarkson told reporters at Xavier College on Friday.

"I think he plays his best footy when he's just in the moment; reading the game and feeling confident with his game and confident with the system we play.

"He's adapting to a new phase of (his career) and that's that he's become an influential player in the game and particularly for our side, so he's going to start drawing attention from opposition teams.

"He needs to cope with that and it's not easy. We ask him to accept those challenges and learn as he's going along and we'll give him every assistance to help him along the way."

Sicily will slot back into the Hawks' backline, allowing Jack Gunston to go forward again, but Clarkson suggested Gunston would perform a variety of roles this weekend.

What is less certain for Hawthorn's coaching team is whether the Demons will tag the AFL's No.1 ball-winner Tom Mitchell or attempt to frazzle Sicily in the same way.

Melbourne Coach Simon Goodwin hinted Bernie Vince, who is used as a run-with player on occasion and has had success against ex-teammate Rory Sloane, could be deployed on Mitchell.

Read: Squad announcement - Round 4

Vince adopted physical tactics in his past tagging endeavours against Sloane and Patrick Dangerfield, but Clarkson was unfussed if more of the same occurred on Sunday.

"The game protects anyone from being overly physical nowadays," Clarkson said.

"We're big boys, we can handle it and I'm sure Melbourne can handle it with us as well."

The four-time premiership coach said any specific effort the Demons, typically a strong clearance team, put into Mitchell could backfire and actually play into the Hawks' hands.

Clarkson also wasn't taking any credit for Mitchell's extraordinary start to the season, including a record-breaking 136 possessions in the first three rounds.

"He's just an outstanding hunter of the ball," he said.

"I wish I could take credit for actually either putting a system in place or actually teaching him what he does, but there are just some blokes who are just natural hunters of the ball.

"He gets his hands on it very well for us, but it's difficult to try and stop that.

"You can usually stop a guy who gets into open space that's getting a lot of the ball, but the guy who's in and around congestion – it's a lot harder to do that."

Both Hawthorn and Melbourne are bidding to move to a 3-1 record, with the former winning 14 of the past 15 clashes between the clubs.