Why a Lion wants to be a Docker
Sitting down face to face with three-times Brisbane premiership captain and now coach Michael Voss to break the news that he wanted to be traded to Fremantle is one of the hardest things Mitch Clark has ever had to do.
The East Fremantle product was coming out of contract, having been beset by speculation for much of this year linking him to the league’s newest club Greater Western Sydney, among other AFL homes.
Yet when it came to speaking with Voss – a Brownlow medallist and recent AFL Hall of Fame inductee – ahead of Brisbane’s best and fairest count, Clark knew there was only one place he wanted to be.
The 23-year-old says he told his coach directly about his desire to return home to Perth for family reasons and continue his career with the Dockers.
“I was very honest with Vossy and he understood my reasons,” Clark said.
“He was obviously disappointed that’s what I wanted to do, but was really supportive.
“I probably felt a bit guilty that I was letting a mate down, but at the same time I think my reasons for trying to leave Brisbane and get back home to Fremantle are really relevant and I think people will definitely understand my reasons for trying to leave.
“It’s one of the hardest things I’ve done in my career and to be able to tell a few of my mates as well at the footy club.
“But the footy club was really supportive and I thank them for giving me the time there.”
Clark flew to Perth last month with his three-year-old daughter Sienna and his partner Samantha as trade negotiations entered a delicate stage.
His management and Fremantle are keen to get the deal done. Both parties are confident of finalising the trade during next week’s AFL national draft combine.
The Lions are believed to want a first-round draft pick and a player or a late draft selection in exchange for the 200cm key-position player.
Clark said personal reasons largely linked to his family’s health had led him to contemplate a move home as early as last year’s trade period.
“I’m very close to my family,” he said.
“I’m one of four boys. Mum and dad were living in Brisbane for about 14 months and they both got offered jobs back here and they decided to move back about a month ago.
“I’m very close to both my grandparents on both sides. My nanna’s got terminal cancer. I’m very family orientated and was very close to my nanna growing up.
“Brisbane allowed me to come back and visit her earlier on in the season, but now I just feel like I want to be around more often and spend some more time with her.”
Clark said he also wanted to be on hand to help two close cousins, who are in prison but are shortly due for release.
“It’s very unfortunate that they’re there,” he said. “I’d rather not go into the reasons why they are, but now that they’re coming out I want to be around and be able to support them.”
Clark said a move to GWS had never been a consideration.
The goal has always been Fremantle. He saw no place for himself at West Coast given their dominant ruck duo and mix of tall forwards.
Clark has been warmly welcomed by Fremantle officials. He has been taken for a tour of the club’s facilities at Fremantle Oval and has met new coach Ross Lyon.
“He’s extremely hard working and listening to him talk, he’s very intelligent,” Clark said of Lyon.
“From what he said he has a very close relationship with his players. That’s very appealing.”
Clark would not be a complete stranger at Fremantle.
He played football at State level alongside Garrick Ibbotson and Hayden Ballantyne before being drafted to Brisbane at pick No.9 in the 2005 national draft.
Aaron Sandilands’ father Gary served Clark sandwiches after his colts matches with East Fremantle.
He labelled the Dockers list as exciting but said his choice of club had not been determined by its immediate flag prospects.
“They’re probably in that mode of trying to win premierships as I suppose 10 or 12 clubs are,” Clark said.
“I haven’t really given that too much thought. It’s so far away right now, so we’ll just see if the trade gets done and then I’ll get over here and get stuck into pre-season.”
Clark’s best season of his six to date came in 2009 in the role of a ruckman. He finished third in the club’s best and fairest count and was an All-Australian nominee.
He said he saw himself becoming a key target in attack at Fremantle. He intends to start running early next week to build fitness after a minor clean-up operation on his right knee.
“I probably see myself as developing into a forward, whether that’s centre half-forward or a deep forward,” Clark said.
“I’ll just have to wait and see what the club wants.
“I think my versatility is one of my strengths. If I was needed in other positions, that’s OK too.
“I got a fair bit of time up forward this year with the Lions, so I think I’m just learning that role again. Hopefully with another big pre-season I can develop into the player that I know I can be.”
Clark was due to return to Brisbane today where he will await the outcome of trade discussions.
He has not considered other options if the trade does not eventuate, saying he will cross that bridge only if needed.
For the Fremantle faithful, he has promised considerable room for improvement in his game if his 82-game AFL career enters a new chapter at the Dockers.
“I definitely haven’t reached my potential, I feel, as a footballer,” Clark said. “I’m just trying to train really hard to turn that around and reach my expectations that I probably put on myself.”