2018 Brownlow Medallist Tom Mitchell wins his second consecutive Hawthorn best and fairest

 

 

P1200027 - Copy.JPGOn Saturday night, 6 October, 2018 at the Crown Palladium Ballroom inside midfielder Tom Mitchell won his second consecutive Peter Crimmins medal as Hawthorn best and fairest in convincing fashion, polling 163 votes to finish ahead of 21 year old defender Blake Hardwick (127 votes) and midfielder Isaac Smith (125). Having won the best and fairest in his first season at the club in 2017 Tom became the first Hawk to win back to back best and fairest awards since Sam Mitchell in 2011-2012 and is the ninth player in the club’s history to win back to best and fairest awards. At 25 years of age and at the peak of his powers Tom is ideally placed to win more Peter Crimmins Medals during his career and join a select group of eight players that have won at least three Hawthorn best and fairest awards.

Left-footer Mitchell won the 2018 Brownlow Medal, polling 28 votes to finish four votes ahead of Collingwood’s Steele Sidebottom with Melbourne’s Angus Brayshaw finishing third on 21 votes. Mitchell started the season in perfect fashion, being best afield in the first three rounds to have the maximum nine votes after Round 3. Mitchell was in the top three on the leader-board for the remainder of the count, and the biggest deficit he faced was three votes to Sidebottom after Round 12. Tom polled votes in four consecutive games from Round 18 to Round 21, enabling him to regain the lead for good in Round 18 and he built an insurmountable eight vote lead over Sidebottom after Round 21.

Tom’s father Barry played 221 VFL/AFL games from 1984 to 1996 including the first 170 games of his career up until the end of 1992 with Sydney, he also played 13 games for Collingwood in 1993 and 38 games for Carlton from 1994 to 1996. Barry played predominantly as a rover, his greatest strength which obviously runs in the family was his ball winning ability, whilst he was also adept at making an impact on the scoreboard, kicking 214 goals in his career, equating to 1.3 goals per game which was a great strike-rate given he predominantly played as a rover. Barry led the league for disposals in both the 1988 and 1991 seasons with 616 and 689 respectively and was selected in the All-Australian team in both 1988 and 1991, he also won Sydney’s best and fairest in 1991.

Tom was born in Sydney on 31 May, 1993 and spent time living in three different states- New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia as he was growing up due to his father’s football commitments, firstly as a player and later as an assistant coach. Tom played his junior football for Ashburton a suburb 12 kilometres southeast of Melbourne. When Tom was 15 and a half years old his dad accepted an assistant coaching role with the Fremantle Dockers which led to the family moving from Victoria to Western Australia. Tom then played junior football for Claremont and represented Western Australia at underage National Championships. In his junior career Tom followed in his father Barry’s footsteps and was a ball-magnet playing in the midfield.

The Sydney Swans choose Tom with pick 21 at the 2011 National Draft as a father-son selection, with the Swans matching a bid placed by the Fremantle Dockers, the club Tom’s dad Barry was an assistant coach of from 2009 to 2011. In nine seasons from 2003 to 2011 Sydney had been one of the most consistent clubs in the AFL, only missing the finals once.

Tom didn’t play any AFL games in 2012 with a knee injury keeping him on the sidelines early in the season, after gaining some continuity in the middle part of the season in the NEAFL a foot injury kept him on the sidelines from Round 18 onwards.

Mitchell made his highly anticipated AFL debut in Round 10, 2013 against Essendon at the SCG the day after his 20th birthday and made an instant impression with 18 disposals on debut despite starting the game as the substitute and playing just 50% game-time. In his second game the following week against Adelaide he received a Rising Star Nomination for an outstanding game in which he had 31 disposals, 10 tackles and 14 contested possessions. Sydney had a deep midfield which resulted in Mitchell spending considerable time in a new role – playing as a forward. Tom was hampered by an ankle injury in 2014 which contributed to him spending considerable time in the NEAFL, including one record breaking game where he amassed 64 disposals and 243 AFL Fantasy points. During his first three seasons on Sydney’s list from 2012 to 2014 injuries and competition for spots in the senior team limited Tom to playing a total of just 20 AFL games.

After starting the 2015 season in the NEAFL Mitchell cemented his position in Sydney’s AFL side as the season progressed, playing 19 of the club’s last 20 games at senior level, only missing Round 21 with an eye injury. This momentum continued with Tom playing all 26 games in the seniors for Sydney in 2016. Mitchell averaged 27.5 disposals per game in his 45 games during 2015 and 2016, finishing in the top 10 of Sydney’s best and fairest and polling 12 Brownlow Medal votes in each season. In the 18 point Grand Final loss to the Western Bulldogs in 2016 Mitchell had 26 disposals and kicked two goals to be Sydney’s second best player behind Josh Kennedy.

At the end of the 2016 season Mitchell decided to leave Sydney to join Hawthorn, with the greater opportunities to play in the midfield being a key reason, given the Swans tight salary cap Hawthorn were also able to offer him more money. Two years after changing clubs Mitchell won the 2018 Brownlow Medal, at that time he commented on leaving Sydney “I went through some challenging times. It was well documented. I played a lot of reserves football and my time in the senior team was pretty limited in terms of coming off the bench a lot and limited minutes. I always had a lot of self-belief. I knew that I could take my game to another level, but there’s no way I could have done that without the support around me.”

During his time at Sydney Mitchell had been part of a very deep midfield group including Josh Kennedy, Dan Hannebery, Luke Parker, Kieran Jack and Jarrad McVeigh, the latter three players have each been selected in one All-Austrlian team whilst Kennedy and Hannebery are both three-time All-Australians. At Hawthorn Mitchell was given more responsibility, taking on the role of the club’s number one inside midfielder. Mitchell flourished in this role and in 2017 set a new record for most disposals in a VFL/AFL season with 787 at an average of 35.8 per game. Tom played all 22 games for Hawthorn in 2017 and convincingly won the Peter Crimmins medal as Hawthorn best and fairest, he also polled 25 Brownlow Medal votes to finish as the runner-up, 11 votes behind Dustin Martin.

In both 2017 and 2018 Mitchell was selected as the rover in the All-Australian team, being one of eight players selected in the final 22 player team in both seasons. Tom’s strengths have been his ball-winning ability, endurance, competitiveness, hardness, durability, reading of the play, clean hands to both gain possession and then with his poise and decision making distribute by hand to a teammate in a better position. The greatest improvement in Mitchell’s game since joining Hawthorn has been his ability to win clearances, in 65 games for Sydney he averaged 3.3 clearances per game. At Hawthorn playing predominantly as an inside midfielder he was able to average 6.3 clearances per game in 2017 and then further improve this mark to 8.0 clearances per game in 2018 to lead the league ahead of Patrick Cripps with 7.6 clearances a game, no other player averaged more than 7.2 clearances per game in 2018. Tom has also shown greater durability as his AFL career has progressed and after playing a total of only 20 AFL games in his first three seasons with Sydney from 2012 to 2014 he has now played 76 consecutive AFL games from Round 22, 2015 onwards.

In 2018 Mitchell played all 24 games for Hawthorn, averaging 16.2 kicks, 19.1 handballs, 4.7 marks, 6.3 tackles, 4.9 inside 50’s, 8.0 clearances, 16.2 contested possessions, 0.5 goal assists, 0.5 goals and 90% game-time per game with a disposal efficiency of 71.9%. Mitchell had a career-best season for kicks, inside 50s, clearances, contested possessions and bounces. During the home and away season Mitchell led the AFL in disposals, handballs and clearances per game.

In his acceptance speech for winning the 2018 Brownlow Medal Tom recognised the role both Sydney and Hawthorn played in his development commenting “I was very grateful for the opportunity Sydney gave me. Going to the club my dad played at, they taught me a lot about my football and I think I still improved in Sydney. Some of my best friends are still in Sydney, so I catch up with them and speak with them on a weekly basis.” Mitchell went on to comment on his current club Hawthorn “I’m very happy at Hawthorn. I just consider myself very lucky to be coached by Clarko (Alastair Clarkson), one of the greatest coaches of all time, and have such great leaders around me.”

Brownlow Medal winning 2018 season with Hawthorn

Mitchell started the 2018 season in exhilarating fashion, having at least 40 disposals in each of his first three games of the season, this trio of games commenced with an all-time VFL/AFL record 54 disposals against Collingwood in Round 1, surpassing the previous record of 53 disposals set by Greg Williams playing for Sydney in Round 19, 1989 with 25 kicks and 28 handballs in a 50 point victory against St Kilda at the SCG. Tom’s father Barry was a team-mate of Williams’ in this game and was the second highest disposal getter for the game with 34 disposals comprised of 22 kicks and 12 handballs. In Round 10, 2012 Gary Ablett playing for the Gold Coast Suns equaled Williams’ record with 53 disposals against Collingwood comprised of 31 kicks and 22 handballs. In the 34 point Round 1 victory at the MCG Tom had 20 kicks, 34 handballs, 27 contested possessions and nine clearances to set-game-highs in all four categories, he also had an equal game-high eight inside 50’s, took an equal game-high eight marks, had a goal assist and despite winning so much contested ball used the ball well to have a disposal efficiency of 70.4%.

Collingwood were criticised for not applying a hard-tag on Mitchell, especially given that in the two games between the clubs in 2017 he polled five Brownlow medal votes and had a 50 disposal game. In the post-game press-conference Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley commented “We tried to curb his influence but were unable to. We had ‘Tay’ [Taylor Adams] and Steele [Sidebottom] and ‘Crispy’ [Jack Crisp] on him at various times after quarter-time. He’s a good player. He gets his hands on the ball, wins stoppages, he’s probably one of the cleanest ball handlers in the shoe box in the first five to 10 metres, and he’s proving to be a really good spreader to the next contest. I thought he and [Jaeger] O’Meara early in the game, from the centre bounce in particular, gave Hawthorn’s forwards first access to it.”

Hawthorn head coach Alistair Clarkson also spoke in the post-game press-conference about his record-breaking midfielder Mitchells’ ball winning ability, saying “He’s just a natural reader of the game, particularly off hand around stoppages, and works so hard. He’s got very quick reaction time to hunt the ball and he played a first-class game, but having said that, to be fair, we’d prefer he wasn’t getting 50 touches. We’d be more pleased if it was shared amongst more players, but how can you tell a bloke not to go and get the footy?”

In a one point victory against Geelong in the Easter Monday Round 2 game in front of 73,189 people at the MCG Mitchell had 21 kicks, nine clearances, 13 inside 50’s and 23 contested possessions, setting game-highs in all four categories, he also had a team-high 19 handballs, one goal assist and kicked an equal team-high two goals.

During a 13 point Round 3 loss to Richmond at the MCG Mitchell had 42 disposals comprised of 21 kicks and 21 handballs to set game-highs in all three categories, in a superb performance he also laid a game-high eight tackles, equal team-high six inside 50’s, game-high 11 clearances, had an equal game-high five bounces and kicked one goal. Mitchell with the maximum nine Brownlow Medal votes after Round 3 led by four votes from GWS midfielder Stephen Coniglio and Port Adelaide utility Justin Westhoff, ineligible Fremantle captain and 2015 Brownlow Medallist Nat Fyfe had polled six votes.  After three rounds of the 2018 season Mitchell was averaging 155 SuperCoach points per games having scored in chronological order 167,148 and 149 points.

Mitchell’s tally of 136 disposals in the first three Rounds of the 2018 season set a new record for most disposals after Round 3, surpassing the mark of 128 set by Gary Ablett in 2012 playing for the Gold Coast Suns. As well as leading the AFL for disposals after Round 3 this season Mitchell also led the league in kicks, handballs, contested possessions, effective disposals, inside 50’s, clearances and centre clearances.

On the prospect of being tagged Mitchell commented to AFL.com.au “At times, you’re going to get more attention than other games and you always have to prepare for, if it’s going to come or not. But I think, as a collective, it’s more midfield group versus midfield group, so the individual stuff doesn’t really matter as much.” On becoming more vocal and displaying more leadership with the Hawthorn midfield group Tom said “It’s a natural progression as you get more experience and stay in the system longer. You feel more comfortable and then you can use your voice more and improve your leadership, so it’s probably something that’s naturally improving for myself.”1

Mitchell and his housemate Jaeger O’Meara have the nickname ‘Jaeger Tom’ and Mitchell spoke about the benefits of having O’Meara and other teammate who were hampered by injury in 2017 back out on the park this season commenting “We obviously missed him (O’Meara) a lot last year (while he was injured) and he’s come in and played some quality footy. And not only Jaeger but guys like Ben Stratton, James Frawley and ‘Poppy’ (Paul Puopolo) as well. We had a lot of experienced players who we missed last year, but those guys are back and playing well this year, which is great.”2

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In Round 4 Mitchell was held to 24 disposals against Melbourne opposed to Demons co-captain Nathan Jones however Hawks head coach Alistair Clarkson got the team performance he wanted with the Hawks playing sublime football to win by 67 points. Two other Hawthorn midfielders in Liam Shiels and Jaeger O’Meara had 31 and 26 disposals respectively whilst wingman Isaac Smith had 22 disposals and kicked two goals.

Against North Melbourne in Round 5 at Etihad Stadium Tom was tagged by Ben Jacobs and restricted to 19 disposals – the only time he had less than 20 disposals in a game during 2018. An incident in the second quarter when Mitchell’s elbow made high contact with North Melbourne ruckman Todd Goldstein was looked at by Match Review Officer (MRO) Michael Christian, a down-field free-kick was paid against Mitchell during the game. Given Mitchell’s blistering start to the season and his status as second favourite for the Brownlow Medal the incident generated considerable discussion and some experts believed that Mitchell should have been suspended which would have made him ineligible for the Brownlow Medal. For Mitchell’s high elbow on Goldstein Match Review Officer Michael Christian fined him $1,500 which meant that he remained eligible for the Brownlow Medal and didn’t miss any games for Hawthorn.

Between Round 4 and Round 10 Tom only polled Brownlow Medal votes once – receiving two votes in a 35 point victory against St Kilda at University of Tasmania Stadium, having 45 disposals, the third highest disposal tally of his career to that stage and his fourth game with at least 40 disposals for the season. Mitchell had 22 kicks, 23 handballs, nine clearances, 15 contested possessions and 30 uncontested possessions to set game-highs in all five categories. Hawthorn wingman Isaac Smith used his hard running to great effect, having 16 kicks, eight handballs, an equal game-high two goal assists and kicked a game-high four goals to receive the three Brownlow Medal votes.

In early May 2018 Mitchell commented to AFLPlayers.com.au on what his strengths and weaknesses as a player are, saying “I know I’m not the most gifted physically with strength, speed or fitness but I try and put in 100 per cent effort and see where that takes me. I think every aspect of my life I get pretty competitive. It’s probably what helps me on the footy field. That’s my natural nature. I’m just someone who tries to get the best out of myself each week and compete as hard as I can.”3

In May Channel Seven interviewed Tom and his housemate, team-mate Jaeger O’Meara at Tom’s house in Richmond. Tom commented “So we played rep footy together over in WA, Jaeger was playing up an age in the under 18 carnival, we got to know each other then, sort of kept in contact and ended up at the same place at Hawthorn.” Jaeger commented “Tom bought the place that we are living in, I was by myself and Tom said ‘if you want there is a room here for you’ so I moved in and am looking for something to buy but haven’t bought anything yet so have been here for about six months now.” On having Jaeger as a house-mate Tom commented “Jaeger’s pretty good, he ticks a lot of the boxes, he’s got the looks, he can cook, he can clean, there is not much he can’t do so he brings a lot to the household which is pretty good.” On his football journey so far Mitchell commented “My time at Sydney was frustrating at times, some things didn’t go my way with selection and injury at times, but I think a lot of players deal with that throughout their career. I just try and not take for granted playing at the moment, and play each game as if it’s your last almost. It is a short career, you’re only playing AFL for I think the average career is three years and the best players in the game only play from 10 to 15 years, so you have to make the most of it.”

During the Channel Seven interview Tom commented on Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis leaving Hawthorn in the same 2016 off-season that he and Jaeger arrived at the club, saying “They would have been great players to learn off and try and emulate but obviously they moved on to different clubs. It was still great that we had examples like, Luke Hodge, Josh Gibson, Jarryd Roughead and Grant Birchall, some of the guys that are still at the footy club now to learn from them and show us the Hawthorn way.” On Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis leaving Hawthorn and Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O’Meara being recruited to the club Tom commented “At the end of the day they were two players, we’re two players, it was just the circumstances of what happened so we just both tried to come in and earn the respect through the way we trained and tried to carry that into our games as well.”

In Round 9 Adelaide half-back Rory Laird and Collingwood wingman Steele Sidebottom increased their Brownlow Medal tally to 13 and 12 votes respectively, overtaking Mitchell who was on 11 votes, the ineligible Fyfe was on 14 votes. After Round 10 Hawthorn had five wins and five losses to be in 10th position on the ladder.

From Round 11 to Round 15 Tom polled Brownlow Medal votes in all four games commencing with his fourth best afield performance of the season in a three point Round 11 victory against Port Adelaide at University of Tasmania Stadium. It was the only time in 2018 that Mitchell had less than 40 disposals in a game and polled the three Brownlow Medal votes and in fact against Port Adelaide he only had 28 disposals – 20% lower than his average 2018 output, however he made a significant impact on the scoreboard in the first half – kicking two of Hawthorn’s first half goals to enable the Hawks to be level with Port Adelaide at the main break. Port Adelaide kicked the first four goals of the game before Mitchell registered the Hawks first goal of the game at the 23 minute mark of the opening quarter, Tom kicked his second goal half-way through the second term to reduce the Power’s lead to six points. Mitchell finished the game with 16 kicks, 12 handballs, eight marks, five clearances, and an equal game-high two goals.

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Mitchell had a game-high 40 disposals, six inside 50’s, nine clearances, a game-high 16 contested possessions and kicked a goal to poll two Brownlow Medal votes in the 56 point Round 13 victory against Adelaide at the MCG.

In Round 14 against the Gold Coast at University of Tasmania Stadium Mitchell played his 100th AFL game at 25 years and 23 days of age. During the press-conference on the eve of his milestone game Mitchell was asked ‘How does the tag of Brownlow favourite sit with you?’ Mitchell responded, ‘Not too comfortably but it is not something my focus is on and it is not something I am thinking about, it doesn’t phase me, people are entitled to say whatever they want to say. My focus is on trying to help the team win and contribute each week, improving every game I play, even at training today, focusing on the little things and then hopefully the little things come out on game day and that’s where your improvement comes from.” In his milestone game against Gold Coast Tom had 31 disposals, four rebound 50’s, an equal game-high five bounces and one goal assist to poll one Brownlow Medal vote in the 53 point victory.

Against the GWS Giants in Round 15 Mitchell had at least 50 disposals in a game for the third time in his career and second time this season, recording 50 disposals comprised of 18 kicks and 32 handballs in an 11 point loss at Spotless Stadium, he was also adept with his ball use to have a disposal efficiency of 80%. Mitchell set game-highs for marks (9), handballs, disposals, tackles (13), bounces (4), and also had seven inside 50’s, one goal assist and an equal game-high 18 contested possessions along with GWS co-captain Callan Ward who received the three Brownlow Medal votes, for a performance in which he had 32 disposals, a game-high 11 clearances, equal team-high six inside 50’s and kicked two goals. Both groups of coaches agreed with the umpires’ assessment as Ward received the maximum 10 votes in the AFL Coaches Association’s player of the year award and Mitchell was voted second best afield, receiving eight votes. After Round 14 Tom had been the equal leader in the Brownlow Medal on 17 votes with Sidebottom, his two votes in Round 15 took him to the outright lead, two votes ahead. After Round 15 Hawthorn had eight wins, six losses and were eighth on the ladder.

Hawthorn split their next two games, recording a comfortable 63 point win against the Western Bulldogs at Etihad Stadium in Round 16 followed by a shock loss to the Brisbane Lions in Round 17 by 33 points at University of Tasmania Stadium, placing them 10th on the ladder and with considerable work to do over the last six rounds to make up ground and make the finals. University of Tasmania Stadium had been a fortress for Hawthorn and before the shock loss to Brisbane their record at the Launceston venue since they commenced playing games at the Launceston venue in 2001 was 46 wins, one draw and 12 losses for a phenomenal winning rate of 78.8%. Mitchell didn’t poll votes in either Round 16 or Round 17 but was one of the Hawks best players in the loss to Brisbane, having 43 disposals, a goal assist, kicked a goal and used the ball superbly to have a disposal efficiency of 83.7%. Sidebottom polled three votes in Round 16 to regain the lead in the Brownlow Medal with a tally of 20 votes, one vote ahead of Mitchell.

Hawthorn and Mitchell were both brilliant in Round 18 with the Hawks defeating Carlton by 72 points at Etihad Stadium and Mitchell polling the three Brownlow medal votes, having at least 45 disposals in a game for the fifth and final time of 2018. Mitchell had 21 kicks, 25 handballs, nine marks, and nine tackles to register game-highs in all four categories, he also had six clearances, four inside 50’s, two goals, one goal assist and was proficient with his ball-use to have a disposal efficiency of 78.3%. For his game against Carlton Mitchell scored a season-high 192 SuperCoach points, setting a new personal best, surpassing the 181 points he had scored three weeks earlier in Round 15. In all four games from Round 17 to Round 20 Mitchell scored at least 150 SuperCoach points. Mitchell’s three Brownlow Medal votes in Round 18 increased his tally to 22 votes, two ahead of Sidebottom, he would remain the outright leader for the rest of the count.

In a 59 point Round 19 victory against Fremantle at Optus Stadium Mitchell polled three Brownlow Medal votes to extend his lead over Sidebottom to five votes, he had 24 handballs, nine marks, 42 disposals, eight inside 50’s and 26 uncontested possessions to set game-highs in all five categories,

he also had 18 kicks, an equal team-high seven clearances, five tackles, 17 contested possessions, kicked two goals – ranked equal second for the game and had a disposal efficiency of 78.6%.

A thrilling four point win against Essendon at the MCG in Round 20 resulted in the Hawks jumping from seventh to fifth place on the ladder and remain in contention for a top four spot at the end of the season. Mitchell was influential in the victory, having 23 kicks, 20 handballs, 13 clearances and 22 contested possessions to register game-highs in all four categories, he also had six marks, 22 uncontested possessions, an equal game-high two goal assists, had a disposal efficiency of 79.1% and received two Brownlow Medal votes. After Round 20 Mitchell had polled 27 votes to lead Sidebottom by seven votes with three rounds remaining.

Geelong kicked the only two opening quarter goals of the Round 21 game against Hawthorn at the MCG to lead by 12 points at quarter-time, however Hawthorn kicked five unanswered goals in the second quarter to lead by 20 points at half-time. Geelong reduced Hawthorn’s lead to six points during time-on of the last quarter however Tom’s housemate O’Meara kicked the final goal of the game and the Hawks only goal of the quarter, at the 29 minutes and 39 second mark of the fourth quarter to extend the margin to 12 points, after a behind from Daniel Menzel the Hawks final winning margin was 11 points. Two Geelong midfielders that are Brownlow Medalists were the top two vote-getters for the game with 2016 winner Patrick Dangerfield receiving three votes and Gary Ablett who won the 2009 Brownlow Medal playing for Geelong and his second medal in 2013 playing for Gold Coast receiving the two votes. Mitchell polled the solitary vote to increase his lead over Sidebottom to eight votes with two rounds remaining, ensuring that he was the 2018 Brownlow Medalist. Mitchell had an equal game-high 22 kicks with Ablett, 10 handballs, seven tackles, six rebound 50’s, an equal game-high six inside 50’s, and a team-high 13 contested possessions.

In the last four rounds of the 2018 home and away season Hawthorn won each games by less than 12 points, defeating St Kilda by four points in Round 22 and Sydney by nine points in Round 23. In their last dozen games Hawthorn had 10 wins and two losses to finish the home and away season in fourth position with 15 wins, seven losses and a percentage of 120.1%. The Hawks finished three games behind minor premiers Richmond, one game and 1.3% behind the second placed West Coast, level on points but 0.3% behind third placed Collingwood and one game ahead of but with an inferior percentage to Melbourne in fifth place.

On Monday 27, August, the day after the 2018 home and away season concluded the results of the AFL Coaches Association award were announced, Mitchell polled 88 votes to finish in third place behind Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn (97 votes) and Patrick Cripps (91).

On August 30, 2018 Mitchell received the 2018 Leigh Matthews trophy as the AFL Player’s Association Most Valuable Player (MVP), polling 773 votes to finish ahead of Patrick Cripps (529 votes), Max Gawn (412), Dustin Martin (304) and Lance Franklin (291). Mitchell became the fifth Hawthorn player to receive the award since its inception in 1982, following Leigh Matthews who won the inaugural award in 1982 and the award is named in honour of, Russell Greene (1984), Jason Dunstall (1992), and Shane Crawford (1999).  In his acceptance speech Tom spoke about getting advice from two of his dad Barry’s former team-mates saying “I’ve had a lot of people in my corner who have experienced similar things and gone through similar situations. Greg Williams has been a bit of a mentor for me over the years, away from the footy club, and at the footy club, Brett Ratten’s another one who, throughout his career, experienced it as well.” AFL Players Association President Patrick Dangerfield who won the Leigh Matthew Trophy in 2016 as the Players’ MVP commented on Mitchell “Tom has been in rare touch this year, highlighted by his incredible ability to get from contest to contest and win a truckload of footy throughout the season. He may seem like an unassuming figure off the field but he is as competitive as anyone on the park. He’s been the League’s most consistent performer and a massive factor in Hawthorn’s resurgence into a premiership contender.”4

The AFL Players Association Published an Article on Mitchell titled ‘Tom Mitchell is on another level’ written by two players that had been teammates and housemate of his –  Harry Cunningham at Sydney and Jaeger O’Meara at Hawthorn. Cunningham who was a housemate of Tom’s for five seasons wrote about Tom’s on-field prowess and preparation “He was professional with what he did away from the field to get himself in that physical condition to work his butt off each weekend. The little things like going for a swim every single day on his own time is what Tommy did to ensure he could perform at his best. He covers the ground so well and has a smart footy brain.” Harry also wrote “Tommy is academically smart but, to put it bluntly, he has no street smarts whatsoever so I’ve had to teach him a few things along the way because I’m probably the opposite. We work well together in that sense.”5

In the AFL Players Association article O’Meara wrote about Mitchell’s on-field strengths “Tommy was always really hardworking. He has this ability to read the play before anyone else on the field. He always seems to be a step ahead. His ability to win the ball in a five-metre bubble is something I haven’t seen before. But the main thing is how hard he works. He’s just that one split second quicker to dive on the ball, have that turn of speed, get to the ball and dish out a handball. He does a lot of vision reviewing and goes through stuff with the coaches during the week about his opponent and the opposition.” However Jaeger said that away from the football Tommy is just a typical 25 year-old, commenting “He’s also a great lad. He doesn’t mind having a beer, although he hasn’t had much this season, so he’s made that sacrifice which is paying off for him. He loves a laugh and jokes around all the time. He watches a fair bit of Netflix and has settled down quite a bit now that he has his girlfriend, who’s also a great person as well. He’s just a normal 25-year-old, who likes to have a laugh and the occasional beer. He doesn’t take life too seriously.”6

A link to the article written by Harry Cunningham and Jaeger O’Meara for the AFL Players Association is below:

http://www.aflplayers.com.au/article/tom-mitchell-is-on-another-level/

In a Thursday night qualifying final at the MCG Hawthorn led Richmond by a point at quarter time but were outscored eight goals to three from then until three quarter time to trail by 35 points at the last change and were defeated by 31 points. Mitchell had 26 handballs, 38 disposals, 11 clearances and 23 contested possessions to set game-highs in all four categories, he also had 12 kicks and kicked a goal.

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Early in the semi final against Melbourne at the MCG Mitchell injured the AC joint in his shoulder, after receiving treatment in the rooms he returned to the field and played 90% game-time even though he was hampered by the shoulder injury. The scores were level at three goals, one behind apiece at quarter time, however as occurred in the qualifying final the Hawks were outplayed in the middle two quarters and trailed by 32 points at three quarter time. Hawthorn reduced the margin to 12 points at the 11 minute mark of the last quarter however Melbourne kicked four of the last five goals of the match to win by 33 points. In the semi final Mitchell had a game-high 17 kicks, seven handballs, five marks, a team-high 10 tackles, equal team-high five inside 50’s, an equal game-high eight clearances and an equal team-high 13 contested possessions.

Mitchell fell just short of breaking his own VFL/AFL record for most disposals in a home and away season, amassing 786 disposals in 2018, one less than his tally of 787 disposals in 2017.  When finals are included Tom still has the two highest tallies for disposals in a season by a Hawthorn player with 848 in 2018, and 787 in 2017, surpassing the 765 disposals that Terry Wallace had in 1983. Tom also ranks first and second for most handballs in a season with 480 in 2017 and 459 in 2018, ahead of Sam Mitchell with 374 in 2015. Tom is also adep at applying pressure and ranks third and sixth for most tackles by a Hawthorn player in a season with 152 in 2018 and 143 in 2017, teammate Liam Shiels has the other four seasons in the top six with his club record being 162 tackles in 2015. Other club records Tom broke in 2018 were for most clearances and contested possessions in a season. One record Tom fell just short of in 2018 was most inside 50’s, having 118 to be five short of the record with to the surprise of the vast majority of football fans is held by Clinton Young with 123 from 23 games in 2007.

Mitchell was selected as the rover in the 2018 All-Australian team, being one of three Hawks to make the final 22 man team along with Luke Breust and Jack Gunston who were each selected in a forward pocket. It was the first time Gunston was selected in the team whilst it was Breust’s second selection, having been picked previously in 2014.

On Monday night 24th September Mitchell entered the Brownlow Medal count as the favourite and for the fourth season in a row following Nat Fyfe (2015), Patrick Dangerfield (2016) and Dustin Martin (2017) the favourite won. Tom was best afield in the first three games of the season as well another three times throughout the season and polled votes in 12 games, ranked first in the AFL ahead of Carlton inside midfielder Patrick Cripps who polled votes in 11 games. Mitchell’s winning margin of four votes from Sidebottom, was the smallest margin since Nat Fyfe won by three votes from Matt Priddis in 2015. One of the biggest surprises from the 2018 Brownlow Medal was Melbourne’s Angus Brayshaw finishing third overall with 21 votes, after starting the season in the VFL, playing his first AFL game of the season as a defender in Round 4 and then being moved into the midfielder. Brayshaw didn’t polled a vote after Round 6 but then polled in nine games for the rest of the season. Brayshaw’s teammate, Max Gawn finished equal fourth with Patrick Cripps on 20 votes, followed by 2017 winner Dustin Martin and Rory Laird in equal sixth place on 19 votes.

Tom Mitchell is the fifth Brownlow Medallist that Milestones and misses have published an article on comprehensively covering that players career, and in particular their Brownlow Medal winning season (s), having previously published articles on:

Dustin Martin – 2017 Brownlow Medallist

Patrick Dangerfield  – 2016 Brownlow Medallist

Adam Goodes – 2003 and 2006 Brownlow Medallist

Robert Harvey – 1997 and 1998 Brownlow Medallist

A link to the page with articles on Brownlow Medal winners is below:

https://milestonesandmisses.com/category/afl/brownlow-medal-winners/

Although there was a 15 vote gap from Mitchell to the second ranked Hawthorn player at the 2017 Brownlow Medal in Jaeger O’Meara on 13 votes eight Hawks polled at least six votes with the other players being Jack Gunston (10 votes), Ben McEvoy (8), Liam Shiels (8), the ineligible James Sicily (8), Luke Breust (7) and Isaac Smith (6).

In his acceptance speech after winning the Brownlow Medal Tom thanked his family, starting with his dad Barry, saying “He’s been a massive supporter of mine. He taught me everything I knew about the game and he’s been such a great support off the field as well. My mum Sandra, my brother Will and sister Chelsea … my brother is my best mate and my sister and my mum are at every game supporting me. I can’t thank them enough for the sacrifices they make for me so I can live out my dream.”

Tom also thanked his girlfriend Hannah and the influence she has made to his diet, saying “I don’t know how much I want to say and go into too much detail. But in summary my diet wasn’t too flash before I met Hannah. My pre-game routine consisted of a box of Barbecue Shapes, a Kit-Kat and some Starbursts every night. Now I am on a strict salmon diet. So it’s changed a little bit.” In response to Mitchell mentioning Shapes in his acceptance speech the maker of the biscuit Arnott’s sent him approximately 200 boxes of Shapes earlier this week.

Mitchell became the sixth Hawthorn player in the club’s history to win the Brownlow Medal, with the previous winners being Col Austen (1949), Robert DiPierdomenico (1986), John Platten (1987), Shane Crawford (1999) and Sam Mitchell (2012). Platen and Tom both won the Brownlow Medal at 25 years of age in their second season at Hawthorn however the Hawks were Platten’s first VFL/AFL club, having previously played five seasons for Central Districts in the SANFL from 1981 to 1985, Platten won the Magarey Medal in 1984 as the best and fairest player in the SANFL. Tom’s tally of 28 votes is the equal highest tally polled by a Hawthorn player in a season along with Crawford in 1999.

In his interview with Bruce McAvaney after winning the 2018 Brownlow Medal Mitchell commented on two two-time Brownlow Medal winners who had influenced him in Adam Goodes and Greg Williams. Mitchell commented on Goodes “I remember living with Goodesy for a week or two when I was about 16 years old, I learnt some lessons that I still carry with me to this day in terms of the way he prepares, his professionalism and things like that.”

On Greg ‘Diesel’ William’s influence Tom said “It probably stems back to the Sydney days when I was struggling for selection and going through injuries. Diesel was a huge mentor for me away from the football club and I can remember coming down in the off-season, it might have been 2014, 2015, 2016 roughly those three years that I would drive out to Essendon three times a week and he mentored me, we trained together and he taught me a lot about the mindset I needed to become a better player and the best player I could be and also working on some technical parts of the game, in terms of my ball handling. They’re things I practice every week and I can’t thank him enough for all the work he put into me.”

During 2018 Mitchell averaged a career-high 129 SuperCoach points per game, surpassing his previous best of 119 set in 2017, he score over 100 in 18 of his 22 games including nine scores in excess of 145 points. Tom ranked second in the AFL for SuperCoach points per game in 2018 behind Collingwood ruckman Brodie Grundy with 130 points per game, just ahead of Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn who averaged 128 points. Completing the top five were two midfielders, Jackson Macrae and Patrick Dangerfield with 127 and 122 points per game respectively.

One of Tom’s strengths especially for an inside midfielder is his endurance which enables him to spend more time on the ground than a typical inside mid, of the players ranked in the top 40 of the AFL for contested possessions per game Mitchell spent the most time on the ground, playing 90% game-time. In all 24 games that Mitchell played in 2018 he played at least 84% game-time and in the thrilling four point win against St Kilda in Round 22 he played his season-high 97% game-time.

In 2018 Mitchell led Hawthorn for total kicks, handballs, disposals, tackles, clearances, contested possessions, uncontested possessions, inside 50’s and bounces, he ranked fourth for rebound 50’s, fifth for marks, equal sixth for goal assists, seventh for goals. Mitchell had at least 28 disposals in 18 of his 24 games including 10 games with more than 39 disposals. Highlighting how dominant Mitchell was at winning clearances his total of 192 clearances in 2018 is only one less than the combined total of the second and third ranked Hawks in this category being Jaeger O’Meara (102 clearances) and Liam Shiels (91) respectively.

Junior career

As a junior and growing up Tom lived in three states, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. With his dad Barry’s employment in football, firstly as a player and later as an assistant coach determining where the Mitchell family lived. Tom’s mother is Sandra and he has two siblings, a brother Will and sister Chelsea.

Before moving to Western Australia at the end of 2008 Tom played his junior football at Ashburton, two of his teammates were current Melbourne captain and 2016 best and fairest winner Jack Viney and GWS forward Toby Greene who in 2016 won the Giants best and fairest and was selected in the All-Australian team. Despite having the trio of Mitchell, Viney and Greene as teammates the Ashburton Redbacks under 15 team lost the 2008 Grand Final to Fitzroy despite beating Fitzroy twice earlier in the season. The trio never played in a premiership together at under-age level. Jack Viney comments on the Grand Final loss ‘We had a ripper year, that year, but they had the big home crowd there. We didn’t finish it off, and that was it. That was the last time we played together.”7

At the 2009 Under 16 National Championships Mitchell played three games for Western Australia, averaging 16.0 kicks, 16.3 handballs, 5.7 marks, 6.3 tackles, 14.3 contested possessions, 1.0 goals and 1.0 goal assists per game. In the official AFL Records Mitchell was named Western Australia’s best player for their games against South Australia and Vic Country and his state’s third best player in the game against Vic Metro.

Tom was part of the 2009 AIS-AFL Academy intake, other members that year included Chad Wingard, Andre Gaff, Dylan Shiel, Adam Treloar, Jonathon Patton, and future Sydney team-mate Luke Parker.

In the 2011 edition of the Champion Data publication AFL Prospectus Tom Mitchell was included in the 2011 Draftees – Potential Top 25 with his profile saying “Mitchell burst onto the scene in the opening match of the 2009 NAB AFL Under-16 Championships, amassing 40 disposals, 14 clearances and 196 Champion Data ranking points for Western Australia. He completed the carnival averaging an elite 32 disposals, six marks and one goal, was awarded the NAB MVP Award for WA and the Kevin Sheehan medal for Division One.”8

Due to injury Mitchell was restricted to playing two games for Western Australia at the Under 18 National Championships in 2011, he averaged 10.5 kicks, 17.5 handballs, 1.5 marks, 2.5 tackles and 13.5 contested possessions per game.

Mitchell had three options for entering the AFL, he could have made himself available to be selected by the GWS Giants as a 17 year-old, join the Sydney Swans as a father-son selection or enter the National Draft and be available to be selected by any of the 18 AFL clubs. Tom decided to join Sydney as a father-son selection.

In a November 2011 interview with then Fairfax journalist Emma Quayle who has since joined the GWS Giants Recruiting team Mitchell commented on the benefits the certainty of Sydney committing to pick him as a father-son selection gave him. Tom commented “If I hadn’t had the Swans, I might have rushed back from my injuries, or stressed a lot more about it. It would have been a frustrating year, but I’ve been lucky. Being over there a few times and seeing what they get up to – all the training and all the meetings they have to go to – I feel like I know a lot more about what to expect. It’s still going to be really hard but I think it will help a lot, knowing the players and just not feeling like everything’s so new.”9

On the eve of the 2011 National Draft Mitchell spoke about his time playing with the Ashburton Redbacks, commenting ‘I started at that club when I was eight or nine years old. You grow up at your footy club, you meet all these different kids and they’re the people that become your mates. ‘The more years that go by, the more serious everything gets, the more you get watched and judged. Back then, all we really did was have fun.”10

Career with the Sydney Swans from  2012 to 2016

Mitchell was selected by the Sydney Swans with pick 21 at the 2011 National Draft as a father-son selection, with the Swans matching a bid placed by the Fremantle Dockers. At the time of being drafted at 18 years of age Tom was 181 centimetres tall and weighed 83 kilograms.

Tom’s father Barry Mitchell played 221 games and had a very successful career playing 170 games for Sydney between 1984 and 1992. Barry’s teammates at Sydney included Greg Williams, Gerard Healy, Dennis Carroll, Mark Browning, Stephen Wright, Tony Morwood, Mark Bayes, Warwick Capper and Paul Kelly. During his time playing for Sydney two of Barry’s midfield teammates each won a Brownlow Medal – centreman Greg Williams in 1986 and ruck rover Gerard Healy in 1988. Williams also won a Brownlow Medal in 1994 playing for Carlton and has been a mentor for Tom during his AFL career. Another one of Barry’s teammates during his last three seasons from 1990 to 1992 in Paul Kelly won the Brownlow Medal playing for Sydney in 1995. On Sydney’s all-time list Barry ranks 46th for most games played and 18th for most goals kicked.

Barry didn’t reach the same heights during his one season at Collingwood in 1993 or his three seasons at Carlton from 1994 to 1996 that he did at Sydney and after his retirement he commented on 27 October 1996 “In hindsight I seriously regret leaving Sydney. It put too much pressure on me.”11

Sydney finished seventh on the ladder at the end of the 2011 home and away season and after defeating St Kilda by 25 points in an elimination final at Etihad Stadium the Swans lost a semi final at the MCG to Hawthorn by 36 points. In nine seasons from 2003 to 2011 Sydney were one of the most consistent clubs in the AFL, only missing the finals once – 2009, and they made back to back Grand Finals against West Coast in 2005 and 2006 for a four point win in 2005 and a one point loss in 2006.

Mitchell started the 2012 season on the sidelines due to a knee injury, he played for Sydney’s North East Australian Football League (NEAFL) side in Round 6 and in his third NEAFL game had 35 disposals, took six marks and kicked a goal. Tom was able to gain some momentum in the middle part of the season, playing 11 consecutive games in the NEAFL, however due to a foot injury he missed the rest of the season from Round 18 onwards.

The profile for Tom in AFL Prospectus 2013 said “Sydney fans have plenty to look forward to after some dominant displays by Mitchell in the NEAFL, despite the prized youngster being hampered by injuries last year. A ball-magnet as a junior, he demonstrated his ball-winning ability late in the year, averaging 30 disposals, 16 contested possessions and nine clearances per game in his last six matches including disposal tallies of 35 and 42.”12

Competition for spots in Sydney’s AFL side was very high with the club finishing the 2012 home and away season in third place with 16 wins and six losses, one game behind minor premiers Hawthorn and second placed Adelaide. Sydney defeated Hawthorn by 10 points in the 2012 Grand Final to win the club’s fifth premiership and second flag in eight seasons, following on from their 2005 triumph.

Mitchell played the first eight rounds of the 2013 season in the NEAFL, was named an emergency in Round 9 and made his much awaited AFL debut for the Sydney Swans in Round 10, 2013 at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) the day after his 20th birthday in a 44 point victory against Essendon. Starting the game as the substitute Mitchell impressed in 50% game-time to have 12 kicks, six marks, six handballs, an equal team-high six tackles, a game-high three goal assists – two more than the second ranked Swan and kicked a goal. The following week Mitchell received a Rising Star nomination in a Sydney 77 point victory against Adelaide at Football Park in Round 11, having 18 kicks, 13 handballs, five marks, 10 tackles, three rebound 50’s, five inside 50’s, 14 contested possessions and kicked a goal.

Mitchell made an impact on the scoreboard early in his career, kicking a goal in each of his first five games followed by three goals in Round 16 against Greater Western Sydney at the SCG. In this game against GWS, his sixth in the AFL Mitchell received the first Brownlow Medal votes of his career, polling two votes for a performance in which he had 14 kicks, nine handballs, three marks, laid a team-high six tackles, four clearances – ranked equal second for the Swans, one goal assist and kicked an equal game-high three goals.

Tom played 12 games during the home and away season and was consistent, having at least 15 disposals in every game including three games with more than 25 disposals. Sydney had a record of 15 wins, six losses and a draw during the 2013 home and away season to finish fourth. In a qualifying final at the MCG Hawthorn defeated Sydney by 54 points. Mitchell injured his ankle early in the semi final at the SCG against Carlton the following week which resulted in him only playing 13% game-time. Sydney defeated Carlton by 24 points, however Mitchell missed the 25 point preliminary final loss to Fremantle due to his ankle injury.

After making his AFL debut Tom played 14 of Sydney’s last 16 games of the season, being named an emergency in Round 22 and missing the preliminary final with his ankle injury. Mitchell played 14 of a possible 25 games for Sydney in 2013, averaging 9.6 kicks, 9.7 handballs, 3.2 marks, 4.7 tackles, 2.4 inside 50’s, 1.5 clearances, 8.4 contested possessions, 0.6 goal assists, 0.8 goals, and played 86 minutes per game, with a disposal efficiency of 66.3%. Sydney had one of the best midfields in the league with the top six players from the clubs 2013 best and fairest in Jarrad McVeigh, Kieran Jack, Josh Kennedy, Dan Hannebery, Ryan O’Keefe and Luke Parker all spending some time in the midfield during 2013. Three of these players were selected in the All-Australian team being McVeigh (half-back), Jack (half-forward) and Hannebery (interchange). Due to the fierce competition for spots in the Sydney midfield Tom rotated between the midfield and the forward line.

In an interview with SwansTV Mitchell spoke about his 2013 season with Sydney, commenting “Having missed the pre-season, I had to do a lot of work to try and get a senior game and it did take me a bit of time. I had to string a few games together in the reserves and build up my match fitness, and I was able to do that, and then from there on I just wanted to grab my opportunity with both hands and stay in the team.” Tom also said “I was also able to learn a different role playing up forward which was something new to me, I am still working at that to try and improve that side of my game and Henry Playfair helped me improve a lot in that area.” During the interview Tom was asked “Who was your mentor this year and how did he help you this season?” Mitchell responded “Nick Smith was my player mentor. He’s a great support and he’s a great leader, is in the leadership group and he was awesome. He was always there for someone to talk to and he sets a great example around the club, so I try to follow his example.”

Mitchell polled 11 votes in the 2013 AFL Rising Star award to finish in equal fourth place with Aaron Mullett. Current Hawthorn teammate and housemate Jaeger O’Meara won the award playing for the Gold Coast Suns with 44 votes ahead of Brad Crouch (31) and Ollie Wines (26). Other players to poll votes were Nick Vlastuin (7), Lachie Whitfield (3), Brodie Grundy and Sam Mayes (1 each). Five years later three of the vote-getters from the 2013 Rising Star Award were selected in the 2018 All-Australian team with Grundy and Whitfield who were each selected for the first time joining Mitchell who was in the final 22 man team for the second year in a row.

Mitchell started the 2014 season in Sydney’s AFL side, having 21 disposals, six tackles and four clearances against GWS in Round 1, followed by 26 disposals, five tackles, five inside 50’s and six clearances against Collingwood in Round 2. Mitchell played the first four games for the Swans in the AFL before an ankle injury kept him on the sidelines for two games. Tom was named an emergency for Round 7 and two weeks later played an incredible game in the NEAFL, having 64 disposals and kicking four goals in a 131 point victory against Eastlake at Startrack Oval in Canberra. An article published on AFL.com.au by Ben Guthrie on May 19, 2014 following this game commented Mitchell’s “disposal tally of 64 (23 contested, 41 uncontested) is the highest ever recorded by Champion Data in a state league or under-18 competition since the company began recording statistics in the TAC Cup in 2006.”13 Mitchell finished the game with 28 kicks, 36 handballs, 14 marks, 12 clearances and 243 AFL Fantasy points. In Sydney’s AFL game that weekend they defeated Essendon by 50 points, they had the bye in Round 10 and Mitchell was not recalled for the Round 11 game, being named an emergency.

An ankle injury meant that Mitchell didn’t play at any level from Round 13 to Round 15, after six consecutive games in the NEAFL from Round 16 to Round 21 Mitchell was recalled to the AFL side for Round 22 against the Western Bulldogs, he had eight kicks, 15 handballs, six tackles, seven clearances and 13 contested possessions to play his role in the club’s 63 point win. In Round 23 Mitchell had 10 kicks, a game-high 19 handballs, eight marks, a game-high 13 tackles, six clearances and 13 contested possessions in a three point loss to Richmond at ANZ Stadium in Sydney. For the Round 23 game against Richmond Mitchell scored 124 SuperCoach points, was named in Sydney’s best players in the Official AFL records, registered game-highs for tackles and handballs and was the equal second ranked Swan for contested possessions behind Luke Parker, yet he was surprisingly dropped for the club’s qualifying final against Fremantle, being named an emergency. Sydney won the minor premiership with 17 wins and five losses, percentage ahead of Hawthorn and Geelong in second and third position respectively and one game ahead of fourth placed Fremantle.

Sydney defeated Fremantle by 24 points in a qualifying final at ANZ Stadium and defeated North Melbourne at the same ground in a preliminary final by 61 points. On the weekend between these two games Mitchell was named best on ground in the NEAFL Grand Final, having 30 disposals, 10 tackles, 11 clearances and kicking a goal in the two point loss to Aspley. Sydney progressed to a Grand Final against Hawthorn at the MCG, the second time in three seasons that the two clubs had met in the Grand Final. Mitchell was named an emergency in all three of Sydney’s finals in 2014. Hawthorn thoroughly outplayed Sydney in the 2014 Grand Final to win by 63 points.

Mitchell played six AFL games for Sydney in 2014, averaging 9.5 kicks, 11.3 handballs, 4.2 marks, 5.7 tackles, 3.2 inside 50’s, 4.2 clearances, 9.5 contested possessions, 0.3 goal assists, 0.3 goals per game and 89 minutes game-time per game with a disposal efficiency of 71.0%.

Carlton made a lucrative offer to Mitchell in 2014 which he turned down. In Grand Final week when Mitchell was asked if he would consider moving clubs for more opportunity to play more senior games Mitchell responded “Not at all. It has been a frustrating season for myself, having to deal with injuries and then missing out on being selected a few times, but I’ve just tried to stay positive and I’m sure with a full pre-season under my belt I can attack the year and get back into the team. I’m contracted in Sydney for another two years and I’m happy in Sydney. Hopefully we can get a win (against Hawthorn) and there’s more success in the future as well.”14

With running defender Nick Malceski having left Sydney in the off-season to join the Gold Coast Suns, Sydney co-captain Jarrad McVeigh was moved from the midfield to defense, it was expected to be easier for Mitchell to cement a position in Sydney’s best 22 during 2015.

Mitchell was named an emergency for Round 1, 2015, the NEAFL season started the following week and he spent three weeks at this level culminating in him having 40 disposals in Round 4. Mitchell was recalled to the Sydney AFL side for Round 5, having 14 kicks, 16 handballs, nine tackles, five clearances, a game-high 22 contested possessions and one goal assist in a four point loss to the Western Bullogs at the SCG. The following week Tom polled the three Brownlow Medal votes for the first time in his career, having 12 kicks, 16 handballs, four marks, five tackles and six clearances in a 38 point Round 6 victory against Melbourne at the MCG.

Against Geelong in Round 7 Mitchell kicked a season-high and equal career-best three goals, he also had 12 kicks, 21 handballs, four marks, equal game-high seven inside 50’s, team-high five clearances, and three goal assists to receive two Brownlow Medal votes in the 43 point victory at ANZ Stadium.

Throughout 2015 Mitchell was given more opportunity to play as an inside midfielder with his ability to win contested possessions and distribute by hand being his greatest strengths. In his first seven AFL games of 2015 he had at least 26 disposals. Tom was quieter from Round 13 to Round 17, averaging 18.4 disposals per game during this five week period.

Mitchell finished the season strongly to average 31.3 disposals per game in his last seven games of the season and had four games during this period with at least 34 disposals. Tom was judged best afield by the umpires for the second time of the season in Round 20 against Collingwood at the SCG, having 15 kicks, a game-high 26 handballs, a team-high eight tackles, five clearances, 19 contested possessions, one goal assist and kicked a goal in the 11 point victory at the SCG.

Sydney finished the 2015 home and away season in fourth position with a record of 16 wins and six losses, one win behind minor premiers, Fremantle, two premiership points behind the second placed West Coast Eagles and percentage behind Hawthorn in third place. In a qualifying final against Fremantle at Subiaco Oval Sydney were wasteful in front of goal during the first half, kicking two goals, 11 behinds to trail Fremantle by 17 points despite having three more scoring shots. Sydney were defeated by nine points, kicking seven goals, 18 behinds to Fremantle’s far more accurate 10 goals, nine behinds. In his first AFL final for two years Mitchell had 14 kicks, 15 handballs, four marks, six inside 50’s and 12 contested possessions. In a semi final at ANZ Stadium Sydney were upset by North Melbourne, being defeated by 26 points.

After playing his first AFL game for the 2015 season in Round 5 Mitchell was able to gain some much needed continuity at the highest level, playing 19 of Sydney’s remaining 20 games of the season, only missing Round 21 due to an eye injury. In 2015 Mitchell averaged 11.2 kicks, 15.9 handballs, 3.7 marks, 6.5 tackles, 2.8 inside 50’s, 4.1 clearances, 10.1 contested possessions, 0.8 goal assists, 0.5 goals and 95 minutes per game, with a disposal efficiency of 72.4%. The profile of Mitchell in AFL Prospectus 2016 said “Mitchell finally translated years of dominance in the NEAFL into the AFL. His contested possession rate showed that he could be labelled an outside player, but he disposed of it like an inside player, with the lowest kick to handball ratio of any player with a contested possession rate below 40%. His pressure was elite, applying the fifth-most pressure acts in the AFL and ranking sixth for tackles.”15

In 2015 Tom ranked fourth at Sydney for total disposals, third for handballs and tackles, fifth for contested possessions and clearances and equal third for score assists. Mitchell finished ninth in Sydney’s best and fairest and polled 12 Brownlow medal votes, ranked third at Sydney behind Josh Kennedy (25) and Dan Hannebery (24).

The profile of Mitchell in AFL Record Season 2016 said “Averaged 27 possessions a game and kicked 10 goals, forming one of the competition’s most lethal midfields along with Josh Kennedy, Dan Hannebery, Luke Parker and Kieran Jack. Had fewer than 22 disposals in just three of his 19 appearances and looks set for a long career as an inside midfielder, with his use of the ball by hand outstanding.”16

The momentum that Mitchell built from Round 5 onwards in 2015 continued in 2016 and for the first time of his AFL career he played every game of the 2016 season in the AFL with Sydney. In Round 1 and 2, 2016 Mitchell received Brownlow Medal votes in back to back games for only the second time in his career, polling two votes in each game. In an 80 point Round 1 victory against Collingwood at the SCG Mitchell had 12 kicks, 18 handballs, a game-high nine tackles and kicked three goals – ranked equal second for Sydney behind Franklin. Against Carlton in a Round 2 win at Etihad Stadium by 60 points Mitchell had 15 kicks a game-high 19 handballs, a team-high eight marks, nine tackles, a game-high eight inside 50’s, an equal game-high eight clearances, an equal team-high 13 contested possessions, and a game-high three goal assists.

At the SCG in Round 7 against Essendon Mitchell used his hard-running and reading of the play to great effect, setting a new personal best for uncontested possessions in a game with 32 – five more than his previous best and eight more than the second ranked Sydney player in this game, co-captain Jarrad McVeigh. Despite his prolific ball-winning playing for Hawthorn during the 2017 and 2018 seasons this remains his personal best for uncontested possessions in a game at the end of the 2018 season. Mitchell had a game-high 21 kicks, 16 handballs, equal game-high 10 marks (with McVeigh), a game-high nine inside 50’s, a goal assist, only five contested possessions and polled one Brownlow Medal vote.

For the first time of his career Mitchell had back to back three vote games in the Brownlow Medal in Rounds 10 and 11, 2016. In a Round 10 victory against North Melbourne by 26 points at the SCG Mitchell had 11 kicks, 30 handballs and eight marks to set game-highs in the latter two categories, he also had 10 tackles, five clearances, 17 contested possessions, an equal game-high two goal assists, kicked a goal and used the ball superbly to have a disposal efficiency of 78%.

In Round 11 against the Gold Coast Suns at Metricon Stadium Mitchell had nine kicks, 24 handballs, a game-high 14 tackles, six clearances, a game-high 20 contested possessions and kicked a goal in a 38 point victory.

In the first half of 2016 Mitchell who was out of contract at the end of the season had been in discussion with Sydney about a new contract, however half-way through the season he put those discussions on hold.

For the second time of 2016 Tom kicked three goals in a game in Round 19, against Fremantle in a 90 point victory at Subiaco Oval, he had nine kicks, 17 handballs, five tackles, was ranked equal second for goals in the game with Josh Kennedy, behind Isaac Heeney with four goals and polled one Brownlow Medal vote.

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Sydney won the 2016 minor premiership with 17 wins, five losses and a percentage of 151.2% to have the same win-loss record but a superior percentage than the teams that finished second and third being Geelong – 143.8% and Hawthorn – 118.6% respectively. Sydney’s cross-town rivals the GWS Giants finished fourth with 16 wins, six losses and a percentage of 143.1.

Sydney hosted a qualifying final at ANZ Stadium against the GWS Giants who were in their fifth season in the AFL and their first finals campaign. It was a tight first half with the Giants leading by one point at quarter time and two points at half-time, however the Giants controlled the second half, kicking seven goals to two to win by 36 points. Tom had eight kicks, 16 handballs, six clearances and 12 contested possessions in the loss.

Sydney progressed to the 2016 Grand Final by defeating Adelaide by 36 points in a semi final at the SCG and Geelong by 37 points in a preliminary final at the MCG. Mitchell was named in Sydney’s best players in both games, having 13, kicks, 19 handballs, 12 contested possessions, an equal game-high three goal assists and kicked a goal against Adelaide, followed by eight kicks, 19 handballs, six tackles, a team-high 19 contested possessions and a goal assist against Geelong.

It was the third time Sydney had made the Grand Final during Mitchell’s time at the club, in 2012 he didn’t play a senior game when the Swans won the premiership and in 2014 he was emergency when the club were thrashed by Hawthorn in the Grand Final. Mitchell was cemented in Sydney’s 2016 side and in the club’s 45 games before the 2016 Grand Final he had played 44 of them, only missing Round 21, 2015 due to an eye injury and had played 29 consecutive games in the AFL with Sydney. Mitchell started the Grand Final on the bench and played a critical role in Sydney having a narrow half-time lead. The Western Bulldogs led by four points at quarter-time and extended this lead to 16 points at the 11 minute mark of the second quarter, however Sydney kicked five of the remaining seven goals of the quarter to lead by two points at half-time with Mitchell and Josh Kennedy each kicking two goals during this period. The game was a low scoring arm-wrestle during the third quarter and first half of the fourth quarter, with both sides kicking three goals during this period and the Western Bulldogs leading by a point at the 15 minute mark of the final term. The Western Bulldogs kicked the last three goals of the match with two to Liam Picken and one to Tom Boyd to defeat Sydney by 18 points. In the Grand Final loss Mitchell had 13 kicks, 13 handballs, a game-high 13 tackles, 10 contested possessions and kicked two goals – ranked second for Sydney behind Kennedy with three. In the Official AFL Records Mitchell was listed as Sydney’s second best player in the Grand Final, behind Kennedy who was the only Sydney player to poll votes in the Norm Smith Medal.

Mitchell played all 26 AFL games for Sydney in 2016, averaging 10.9 kicks, 17.0 handballs, 3.9 marks, 6.2 tackles, 3.8 inside 50’s, 3.5 clearances, 12.0 contested possessions, 0.7 goal assists, 0.6 goals and 96 minutes per game, with a disposal efficiency of 66.4%. In 2016 Tom ranked third at Sydney for total disposals, second for handballs and tackles, third for uncontested possessions, equal third for bounces, fourth for clearances and contested possessions, fifth for inside 50’s and goal assists and eighth for kicks. In 2016 Mitchell polled 672 votes to finish eighth in Sydney’s best and fairest, 12 votes behind Jake Lloyd in seventh place and 155 votes behind Lance Franklin in sixth place. Sydney’s top five were Josh Kennedy (922), Dan Hannebery (913), Heath Grundy (865), Luke Parker (834) and Dane Rampe (833). Mitchell polled 12 Brownlow Medal votes, ranked fifth at Sydney behind Luke Parker (26 votes), Dan Hannebery (21), Lance Franklin (17) and Josh Kennedy (14).

During the 2016 Trade Period Mitchell requested a trade to Hawthorn with a key reason for the trade being increased opportunity to play as an inside midfielder. Mitchell also had a desire to move to Victoria eventually and Hawthorn were able to offer more money than Sydney could due to their salary cap position. In an interview with Radio Station SEN in September 2018 Mitchell commented on the move from Sydney to Hawthorn saying “It was during the 2016 season and I obviously loved my time at the Swans and we had a pretty strong campaign that year, just losing the Grand Final to the Western Bulldogs. I remember throughout the year I was very invested with the club and some of my mates are still there, so I really wanted to win that premiership. I just had a funny feeling during the year that I lacked opportunity… I’d come off the bench every quarter or play low game time. I had a little bit more to offer – fortunately enough an offer came from Hawthorn to come and play a role in the midfield. I’d always wanted to come back to Melbourne eventually anyway so it felt like the right fit at the time.”17

During his five seasons on Sydney’s list Mitchell played 65 games and kicked 38 goals, he finished in the top 10 of Sydney’s best and fairest twice – ninth in 2015 and eighth in 2016. At Sydney Tom averaged 10.5 kicks, 14.6 handballs, 25.1 disposals, 3.7 marks, 5.9 tackles, 3.1 inside 50’s, 3.3 clearances, 0.6 goals and 0.6 goal assists per game. Records of disposals per game have been kept since 1965 and as per afltables.com Tom Mitchell ranks sixth on Sydney’s all-time list with 25.1 disposals per game, one place behind his father Barry who averaged 25.7 disposals per game for Sydney. The top four are Greg Williams (28.4 disposals per game), current Sydney captain Josh Kennedy (26.9), Bob Skilton (26.6) and Gerard Healy (26.4) whilst a former team-mate of Tom’s in Dan Hannebery who was traded to St Kilda yesterday ranks seventh with 24.4 disposals per game.

 2017 season with Hawthorn

On 12 October 2016 Hawthorn recruiting manager Graham Wright commented “We are excited to have an in principle deal done with the Sydney Swans for Tom Mitchell to join the Hawks for the 2017 season and beyond. Tom has had a fantastic season for the Swans, particularly in the second half of the year. He’s a high-quality person and at only 23 years of age has plenty of football ahead of him. Tom has the flexibility to play multiple positions but we believe he’ll primarily play as an inside midfielder.”18 A trade was completed during the 2016 trade period with Hawthorn trading pick 16 and pick 58 at the 2016 National Draft to Sydney for Mitchell.

In a controversial move during the 2016 trade period Hawthorn traded out the players that finished first and second in the club’s best and fairest that season, being Sam Mitchell who won his fifth Peter Crimmins medal as Hawks best and fairest with 170 votes and runner-up Jordan Lewis who polled 157 votes. Hawthorn traded then 30 year-old Lewis to Melbourne for pick 47 and pick 53 at the 2016 National Draft whilst than 34 year-old Sam Mitchell along with draft picks 54 and 72 was traded to West Coast in exchange for picks 52, 70 and 88. Mitchell and Lewis had each played in the four Hawthorn premierships coached by Alistair Clarkson between 2008 and 2015, Mitchell ranked third on Hawthorn’s all-time games list with 307 games behind only Michael Tuck (426 games) and Leigh Matthews (332) whilst Lewis ranked equal 11th on the Hawks all-time games list with 264 games.

Hawthorn joined the VFL in 1925 and in their first 32 years in the league they only finished in the top six of the ladder in a 12 team league once, with a fifth placed finish in 1943. John Kennedy was appointed as senior coach in 1960 with Graeme Arthur as captain, a year later the club won their first premiership. Hawthorn won their second premiership with Kennedy as coach and David Parkin as the captain in 1971 and the club has continued to win at least one premiership a decade ever since and have now won a total of 13 premierships at a phenomenal strike-rate of one every 4.5 years since winning their first premiership in 1961. Hawthorn went onto to win another two premierships in the 70’s, 1976 and 1978. In the most successful era in the club’s history the Hawks won five premierships between 1983 and 1991 – 83, 86, 88, 89 and 91. It was 17 seasons until the club won their next premiership in 2008, and then for the first time in the club’s history they won three consecutive premierships from 2013 to 2015.

Hawthorn had expected to fall down the ladder during 2015 and were surprised that they were able to win a hat-trick of premierships. The Hawks finishing third on the ladder at the end of the 2016 season were defeated in both their finals, losing a qualifying final to Geelong by two points after Hawthorn midfielder Isaac Smith missed a shot after the siren and being defeated by eventual premiers the Western Bulldogs by 23 points in a semi final.

On 18 October, 2016 Clarkson sent Hawthorn members an email with a 17 minute video explaining the decision making process in deciding to trade Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis, commenting on the decision “It was really to allow them to share in the decision-making and try to control their own destiny, in a sense. Both those guys, I don’t think, would enjoy the conversation with me or anyone else at our football club if we got to round 20 next season and we marched them in and said ‘I don’t think we’re going to re-contract you next year’. That sat really uncomfortably with me.”19

During the video Clarkson also commented on the recruitment of Tom Mitchell, saying “That was totally independent of the Mitch (Sam Mitchell) and Jordan (Lewis) decisions really, whether it was to do with salary cap or space. We were hoping that Tom Mitchell would actually get a chance to play with those two boys so they could impart a bit of knowledge and wisdom.”20

On 10 December 2016, Hawthorn announced their new jumper numbers for the 2017 season with Tom Mitchell being handed one of the most famous numbers in the club’s history – number 3, which had been worn by Jordan Lewis in the previous 11 seasons from 2006 to 2016. Hawthorn’s greatest ever player Leigh Matthews wore number 3 in his last 14 seasons at the club from 1972 to 1985. On receiving number 3 Tom commented “It’s a huge privilege to get the No.3. There’s a big history with Leigh Matthews a club legend and more recently Jonathan Hay and Jordan Lewis who’s a four-time premiership player. I’m looking forward to wearing it.”21

During the 2016 trade period Tom Mitchell was one of two high profile midfielders that the Hawks traded in with the other being Jaeger O’Meara who had starred in his first two seasons of AFL football for the Gold Coast Suns in 2013 and 2014, playing 44 of a possible 44 games across his first two seasons, in his debut season he won the league’s Rising Star award and finished third in Gold Coast’s best and fairest with 204 votes behind his captain Gary Ablett (260 votes) who won that season’s Brownlow Medal and Dion Prestia (213 votes). O’Meara suffered knee injuries which meant that he didn’t play a single AFL game in either 2015 or 2016.
Tom instantly became the Hawks number one midfielder and he thrived with this responsibility and the opportunity to play predominantly as an inside midfielder. In five seasons on Sydney’s list he had at least 37 disposals in a game four times. In his first season at Hawthorn Mitchell had at least 37 disposals in 10 of his 22 games.

Mitchell played his first game for Hawthorn at 23 years of age in Round 1, 2017 against Essendon at the MCG. Key forward Jarryd Roughead who had missed the entire 2016 season due to cancer played his comeback game and had been appointed club captain for 2017. On club debut for the Hawks Tom had 20 handballs, 37 disposals, 10 inside 50’s, to set game-highs in all three categories he also had 17 kicks, a team-high nine marks, an equal game-high 16 contested possessions and one goal assist in the 25 point loss.

In his first six games at Hawthorn Tom had at least 32 disposals five times and averaged 34.3 disposals per game, however Hawthorn had one win and five losses to be second last on the ladder, ahead of Mitchell’s former team Sydney who lost their first six games of the season. At that early stage of the season Hawthorn had suffered three losses by at least 75 points, 86 points each to Gold Coast in Round 3 and Geelong in Round 4 followed by 75 points to St Kilda in Round 6 at University of Tasmania Stadium. Several critics were saying that it was the end of an era at Hawthorn and it would take them several years to rebuild. In Hawthorn’s only victory in the first six Rounds by 50 points against West Coast at the MCG in Round 5 Tom polled his first Brownlow Medal votes as a Hawk, receiving two votes for a performance in which he had 12 kicks, a game-high 25 handballs, a game-high 37 disposals, five marks, six tackles, equal team-high six clearances, and a game-high 18 contested possessions.

Hawthorn recorded their second win of the season in a Round 7 thriller with a three point win against Melbourne at the MCG. Mitchell had 31 disposals, 12 tackles and 16 contested possessions to set team-highs in all three categories, he also received one Brownlow Medal vote. In defeating Brisbane by 38 points in Round 8 at University of Tasmania Stadium Hawthorn recorded back to back victories for the first time in 2017, Mitchell also received the three Brownlow Medal votes as a Hawk for the first time, having 22 handballs, 36 disposals to set game-highs in both categories. Tom also had 14 kicks, six marks, a team-high nine tackles, six clearances and one goal assist.

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In Round 9, 2017 on Saturday night 20 May Mitchell joined a select group of players that had recorded 50 disposals in an VFL/AFL game, having 50 disposals comprised of 22 kicks and 28 handballs. In the post-game press-conference Collingwood head coach Nathan Buckley defended the decision not to tag Mitchell by commenting “He just finds a way and keeps getting to the pill, (but) if I said he wasn’t hurting us a lot, would that make sense?” Hawthorn kicked the first six goals of the game to lead by 36 points at quarter-time however after both sides kicked four goals in the second term Collingwood five unanswered goals in the third quarter to level the scores at the final break. Hawthorn kicked the first goal of the final quarter through Luke Breust, however Collingwood kicked the last three goals of the game to win by 18 points. Due to Collingwood winning the game and Buckley’s comments there was considerable debate as to how effective Mitchell’s 50 disposals had been. Mitchell’s other game stats were eight marks – ranked second for Hawthorn, eight tackles, five clearances, a game-high 22 contested possessions, a game-high 28 uncontested possessions and 158 SuperCoach points – his second highest tally of the season.

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Mitchell’s 50 disposals against Collingwood was 24 more than the second ranked Hawthorn player in Isaac Smith however Collingwood had a more even midfield performance with four players having between 27 and 36 disposals – Scott Pendlebury (36), Adam Treloar (34), Taylor Adams (33) and Steele Sidebottom (27). On the Monday following the game Buckley tweeted “So not to be misrepresented. Tom Mitchell played an amazing game on the weekend and I believe our midfielders were instrumental in the win.”22 When the AFL Coaches Association votes for Round 9  were released it was obvious that neither Buckley or Hawthorn head coach Alistair Clarkson considered Mitchell to be the best man on the ground as Pendlebury received the maximum 10 votes whilst Mitchell received five votes – ranked equal second with Collingwood defender Jeremy Howe. The umpires disagreed with the coaches assessment and on Brownlow Medal night Mitchell received the three votes to make it back to back best afield games whilst Pendlebury and Adams received two votes and one vote respectively.

In the week after Mitchell’s 50 disposal game against Collingwood Sydney coach John Longmire was asked about the ball-winning ability of his former player and commented “I know as good as anyone how good a player Tommy Mitchell can be and how he can find the footy. I reckon if there was one football left in the world and you employed Tom Mitchell to go and find it, he’d find it. It could be in a cave in the middle of the jungle somewhere and he’d be able to go and find it. He’s just that good. He had an enormous amount of contested possessions on the weekend. He wins one-on-ones and he knows where to run to get it. In a one-on-one situation, he’s as good as there is and always has been since he’s been a kid.”

Hawthorn only won one of their next three games – defeating arch-rival and Tom’s former team Sydney by six points in Round 10. After Round 13 Hawthorn had a record of four wins and eight losses to be 17th on the ladder, two wins ahead of Brisbane and percentage behind North Melbourne in 16th position.

Both Hawthorn and Mitchell finished the season strongly with the club having six wins and a draw in their last 10 games whilst Tom polled Brownlow Medal votes in seven games including four best afield performances with the first of these being against Collingwood, just six Rounds after he amassed 50 disposals against them. In Round 15 Mitchell had 14 kicks, a game-high 21 handballs, a game-high 35 disposals, six tackles, five rebound 50’s, seven clearances, 12 contested possessions and kicked two goals in the 24 point victory.  In this encounter both coaches thought Mitchell was best afield with him receiving the maximum 10 votes in the AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year Award.

Tom polled a total of 12 Brownlow Medal vote in five games from Round 14 to Round 18 comprised of three 3’s, one 2 and one 1. In the final game of this sequence Mitchell received the three votes in the 52 point win against Fremantle at Subiaco Oval, having 21 handballs and 37 disposals to set game-highs in both categories, he also had 16 kicks, seven marks, five tackles, a team-high five clearances, 10 contested possessions and two goal assists.

In Round 22 Mitchell received the three Brownlow Medal votes in a seven point loss to Carlton at Etihad Stadium, having 29 handballs, 44 disposals, 11 clearances and 20 contested possessions to set game-highs in all four categories, he also had 15 kicks, an equal team-high seven tackles, three bounces, one goal assist and scored 161 SuperCoach points to record his highest score of the season. During the game Mitchell increased his disposal tally to 755 for the season, in the process setting a new record for most disposals in a home and away season, surpassing the 748 disposals that Wayne Richardson had playing for Collingwood in 1971.

With their improved form in the last 10 rounds of the season Hawthorn rose up the ladder to finish 12th with a record of 10 wins, 11 losses and a draw, just six premiership points and percentage behind the West Coast Eagles who finished the home and away season in eight position. Injury restricted midfielder Jaeger O’Meara to six games, Grant Birchall to five games, James Frawley to eight games, Cyril Rioli to seven games and Ben Stratton to eight games.

During his 65 games at Sydney Mitchell had at least 37 disposals four times, he managed to easily surpass this mark in his first season at Hawthorn, having at least 37 disposals eight times in 2017. In his first season at Hawthorn Mitchell got the opportunity to spend significantly more time on the ground, predominantly play in his preferred position of inside midfielder and thrived with the responsibility of being Hawthorn’s clear-cut number one midfielder. Tom played all 22 games for Hawthorn in 2017, averaging 14.0 kicks, 21.8 handballs, 5.3 marks, 6.5 tackles, 3.5 inside 50’s, 6.2 clearances, 14.8 contested possessions, 0.4 goal assists, 0.5 goals and 107 minutes game-time per game, with a disposal efficiency of 72.3%. Mitchell set a new personal best for total kicks, handballs, disposals, marks, rebound 50’s, clearances, contested possessions, and uncontested possessions. The area of greatest improvement was winning clearances his best at Sydney was 4.17 clearances per game in 2014, he increased this by 50% to averaged 6.27 clearances per game in 2017.

During his outstanding 2017 season Mitchell led Hawthorn for disposals, handballs, contested possessions, uncontested possessions, score involvements, clearances, tackles, ranked second for kicks and inside 50’s and fourth for rebound 50’s. At the 2017 Peter Crimmins Medal Mitchell polled 192 votes to win in convincing fashion ahead of ruckman Ben McEvoy on 138 votes and Luke Hodge on 131 votes. Mitchell was the only Hawthorn player selected in the 2017 All-Australian team, being selected as the rover, the same position his father Barry was selected as in 1991.

The profile for Mitchell in AFL Prospectus 2018 said “Mitchell thrived as the Hawks’ No 1 midfielder, recording the fourth-best consistency rating for Champion Data Ranking points of the top-50 ball winners. He was in his side’s top-three ranked players for ranking points in 17 games, with only Patrick Dangerfield (18) doing so in more games. Mitchell reached 30 disposals in all but two games and as a driving force – ranking No. 1 in the AFL for assisted metres gained.”23 During the 2017 home and away season Mitchell led the AFL for disposals, ranked second for handballs with 480 – two behind Clayton Oliver, third for contested possessions, second for uncontested possessions, fifth for handballs received and seventh for tackles.

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In 2017 Mitchell polled 25 votes to be runner-up in the Brownlow Medal, 11 votes behind Dustin Martin, 2016 Brownlow Medalist Patrick Dangerfield polled 33 votes but was ineligible due to a suspension. Two of Tom’s former Sydney team-mates finished in third and fourth position respectively being Josh Kennedy (23 votes) and Lance Franklin (22 votes), the top five was completed by GWS midfielder Josh Kelly on 21. Mitchell polled votes in 11 games comprised of six 3’s, two 2’s and three 1’s.

The profile of Mitchell in AFL Record Season 2018 said “The move from the Swans at the start of last season offered Mitchell the chance to shine and he finished 2017 as one of the stars of the competition and the runaway winner of the Hawks’ best and fairest. Tough, durable and super-competitive, Hawthorn’s new No. 1 midfielder broke the AFL record for total possessions in a home and away season with 787.”24

Epilogue

Having spent seven seasons on an AFL list Mitchell’s career to date has had three distinct phases. In his first three seasons form 2012 to 2014 he played a total of only 20 AFL games due to injuries and fierce competition for spots in the Sydney side. During 2015 and 2016 Tom cemented himself in Sydney’s side playing 45 games and averaging 27.5 disposals per game even though he was down the pecking order of Sydney midfielders and averaged 96 minutes per game. After being traded to Hawthorn in October 2016 the third phase of Mitchell’s career commenced and during this two season period he has stamped himself as the premier ball winner in the AFL, breaking disposal records bong for single games and entire seasons. Across the 2017 and 2018 seasons Mitchell has played all 46 games for Hawthorn, averaging 35.5 disposals per game and has elevate himself amongst the top handful of players in the league.

In 2017-18 Mitchell ranks second in the AFL for total Brownlow Medal votes polled with 53, behind Martin with 55 votes and ahead of Dangerfield with 50 votes, and a massive gap to Lance Franklin and Steele Sidebottom as the equal fourth highest vote-getter during this two season period with 38 votes, followed by Dayne Beams with 35 votes.

In his 111 game AFL career to date Mitchell has averaged 12.4 kicks, 17.0 handballs, 4.2 marks, 0.6 goals, 6.1 tackles per game, 3.6 inside 50’s and 0.78 Brownlow Medal votes per game. In 2017 Tom broke the all-time record for most disposals in a home and away season with 787. During 2018 Mitchell enhanced his game further by being more damaging with ball in hand, kicking more and winning more clearances. Mitchell’s outstanding 2018 season was recognised by Hawthorn, the AFL Player’s Association and the media with him winning his second Peter Crimmins Medal as Hawthorn best and fairest, the AFL Player’s Association’s Most Valuable Player Award, the Brownlow Medal and various media awards.

Since joining Hawthorn and having the opportunity to play predominantly as an inside midfielder Mitchell has thrived with the responsibility and has quickly elevated his game to develop into one of the best players in the competition from the start of the 2017 season onwards. The most fundamental skill in Australian Rules Football is the ability to win the football, during the 2017 and 2018 seasons Mitchell has displayed that he is clearly the best player in the AFL at this skill, however there are several elements that contribute to this, reading of the play, speed, endurance and clean hands. Once Mitchell has the ball he is a good decision maker and ball-user particularly by hand enabling him to distribute the ball to a teammate in a more damaging position. In his first two seasons at the Hawthorn Football Club 25 year old Tom Mitchell has already joined a select group of nine players to win back to back best and fairest awards for the club.

By Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

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