This one goes out to the mighty Mitch

I can’t even remember the first time I noticed Mitchell’s as an outstanding Hawks player. For the life of me I’ve racked my poor and fading memory to recall the first game I saw him play. That exercise draws a blank. However, when I think of great Hawthorn games through the last 15 years I easily picture Sammy.

 

That wicked kid grin, the steel of his determination, fierce tackling, clean left foot (or right – kicking was never a problem), his trademark furtive glance left, right and even behind him too, before disposing the ball through kick or handpass, centimetre perfect to start or continue a run forward. Who has not admired the strength in his stance, that fine balance between tightrope walker and double brick wall; dismissing the tackler without regard. For me, what always stood out was the instinctive arch of his back preventing a tackle or grab, buying him precious seconds and the team’s next best use of the ball.

 

Mitchell is both the quintessential midfielder and the least imaginable successful midfielder of the last decade. He was not born to run. Yet his drive and the way he has turned a set of statistically ordinary attributes to the best possible use and advantage, maintaining a high (even superior) level of fitness, strength and skill, as he has aged is what has made the man.

 

I don’t really follow the trials and tribulations of the Box Hill Hawks. Oh, but for more time. Occasionally I will get to a game. If “planning” to get down to see them were dollar coins I’d be a rich man. So I never saw how Sam Mitchell entered the scene. But it is worth noting. Missing the AFL Draft in 2000 he joined Box Hill instead. His rise to seniors in Box Hill was stellar. Played in their 2001 premiership team and in his break-out season with the Hawks in 2002 he won the VFL Best and Fairest medal, playing 11 games for Box Hill.

 

Mitch was recruited by Hawthorn from Box Hill in 2001, along with Luke Hodge. Mitchell was draft pick number 36. Hawthorn selected Campbell Brown, Rick Ladson and Daniel Elstone before picking Sam. What nobody could foretell was that Number 36 in the 2001 AFL Draft would go on to be a lynchpin player for the mighty Hawks incredible premiership success.

 

Hawthorn were a long, long way from their eventual good fortune when Mitchell made his debut. Even though he won the AFL Rising Star award in 2003 the team (and club) he played for were struggling and the edge of the abyss was not beyond them. In 2004 Hawthorn finished second last. Only a 45 point differential in the For and Against columns to determine percentage separated them from wooden spooners, Richmond. But they did have Mitch and Hodge and Crawf and more to come …
Hawthorn’s success in the 2000s is commonly known as the Clarko era. Central to that success in the man they call the mighty Mitch. It may well be a cliché that adversity breeds character, strength, opportunity and greatness but in the case of Sammy that is exactly what it has done.

 

While he was a stand-out player in juniors and then Eastern Ranges to the Hawks he has had to fight for his place every step. He has had to prove himself over and over again. Would he have been the same player and produced the same results without the setbacks and tests? Those hard years losing week after week, a club and coach in disarray are part of his formative years.

 

Clarko did not set the world on fire from day one. The Hawks struggled up the premiership ladder a year at a time. Did this maketh the Mitch? The sentimental side of me would like to believe those things were the foundations on which he built his career. I’ll leave that to the reader to ponder. What the reader and I will agree on I suspect is that Sam Mitchell would not know that the word surrender is even in the English language.

 

In 2008 he captained the Hawks and led them to their first premiership in seventeen years. That season set the Hawks up for their “era”. It would take several more years to focus the intent but once that focus was set Hawthorn’s game has been unrelenting. Mitch is a key to that focus and success.

 

A team can have great players yet not achieve a golden era. The Hawks got both. On the back of a dozen stars. And in Number 5 they got much more than they bargained for. What they got with Sammy was consistency. Through thick and thin, through highs and lows. He just keeps on delivering. In centre clearances, under pressure, in Grand Finals and across 300 games. He just keeps on delivering.

 

So the player that Roos great and commentator, Wayne Carey said would struggle to get a game at any other AFL side pulls his boots on this Sunday to play his 300th game of AFL. Every one of them for the mighty Hawks. He is only the seventh Hawks player to reach this esteemed milestone.

 

The Premiership flags and personal awards speak to his greatness. In ten years well might we look back at this era and reassess an established “fact” of these times. The received wisdom says that tall, fast paced players such as Dangerfield and Fyfe are the archetype best midfielders the competition has ever produced and seen. Against the grain of that prevailing concept can I leave you to ponder one more thing? That short, solid, slow and stumpy kid from Mooroolbark might be the best of the lot.

About Rick Kane

Up in the mornin', out on the job Work like the devil for my pay But that lucky old sun has nothin' to do But roll around Heaven all day

Comments

  1. Stab Punt Jim Johnson says:

    Hi Trucker Slim
    I agree with all of your comments re the Great Sam Mitchell. He not only almost never wastes a kick or handball he somehow manages to choose the best option to pass to. I have a small history at Mooroolbark. Before there was a Mooroolbark Footnball Club, that was founded in 1965, from age 13 in 1946 I played in Mooroolbarks’ first and only cricket eleven. My father was captain of this team and we lived about two and a half miles from the Mooroolbark ground. We had no car and walked to and from the ground to play or practice. One of the players, the late Andy Bell, was one of our opening bowlers and he was the Station Master at Moorroolbark. When the train came thru he left the cricket ground to see the passengers on and off the train and then he came back to the cricket ground. I remember on the last cricket practice evening of 1948/49 a football was kicked around on the cricket ground and my brother and I were invited to join the Mount Evelyn Football Club’s newly formed second eighteen. We attended training. The football ground was only about three miles from home and that was an easy walk away. Anyway that was nearly twenty years before the great Sam Mithells’ Mooroolbark Football Club was formed.
    Once again Trucker Slim a really great and accurate article.

    Stab Punt jim Johnson

  2. Rick Kane says:

    Hi Stab Punt

    Thanks. He played another high standard game to bring up his 300th!

    What a great story about the cricket club, Andy Bell and the origins of Mt Evelyn FC. Would love to read stories about those times starting up the footy club.

    Cheers

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