Jason Horne-Francis will have North Melbourne’s support if he commits to the club beyond 2023, but new coach Alastair Clarkson has promised to pull the prized draft pick into line if he needs to.
Horne-Francis endured a difficult debut year, where he was disciplined for heading home to South Australia without club consent for Mother’s Day and dropped from North’s team to travel to Adelaide for failing to comply with his coach’s ice bath instructions.
He was also suspended for two games for striking and was seen at times arguing with teammates in a dismal year where the Kangaroos won just two games and finished with the wooden spoon.
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But speaking On the Couch on Monday, Clarkson said 2022 was a “great learning year” for the teenager.
“He’s an 18-year-old lad that I think if he’s guilty of anything it’s pride of his own performance and pride in his own team’s performance,” Clarkson praised.
“He’s probably been a star right through his juniors and he’s got to an environment where they weren’t going so well and he wasn’t performing to the levels he’s been so used to throughout his junior career.
“He just needs to go through this.
“This will be a great learning year for him.”
Clarkson said while he was yet to speak with Horne-Francis, he hoped the teen would excel with another pre-season under his belt.
“Hopefully with a bit of guidance and another pre-season, a realisation that despite being the number one draft pick, this game is pretty hard,” he said.
“It’s a complex game even for the very, very best of the kids coming through.
“He’s got a long journey ahead – hopefully all at the North Melbourne footy club.
“We’re here to support him as much as we can and give him a cuddle sometimes, and sometimes a size nine up the backside to get him going again.”
Horne-Francis’ future has been a massive discussion point in 2022 with the young gun putting contract talks on hold.
He remains committed to the Roos until the end of 2023, under the initial two-year deal he signed as part of his drafting.
But whispers of a return home to South Australia have plagued the prized pick all season.
His off-field drama has only fuelled talk the Adelaide Crows could made a bold trade play this year in a bid to get Horne-Francis home.
Horne-Francis is North Melbourne’s first number one pick since the AFL introduced the draft system.