12 October 1982 (age 40)
Place of birth
Mooroolbark, VIC (3138)
Age at first & last AFL game
First game: 19y 197d
Last game: 34y 339d
Height and weight
Height: 180 cm
Weight: 84 kg
State of origin
|Club||League||Career span||Games||Goals||Avg||Win %||AKI||AHB||AMK||BV|
AFL: 11,201st player to appear, 41st most games played, 1,532nd most goals kickedHawthorn: 814th player to appear, 3rd most games played, 93rd most goals kickedWest Coast: 230th player to appear, 172nd most games played, 191st most goals kicked
A quick glance at the playing resume of Sam Mitchell - 16 AFL seasons, 329 games, Rising Star award winner, Brownlow Medallist, premiership captain - could lead the reader to believe that this is the precis of a born superstar. The truth, however, is very different, and Mitchell's story is one of hard work, persistence and not taking no for an answer. Without those qualities, Mitchell may never have played a game at AFL level. The Hawthorn Football Club is very glad that he did.
As a junior with Mooroolbark Sam Mitchell came under notice and went on to win two best and fairest awards at under 18 level with the Eastern Ranges. But many AFL recruiters were skeptical of his ability to go to the next level, citing lack of height and speed and an inability to carry the ball as reasons he would struggle to make the grade in the AFL.
As a result, Mitchell was overlooked in the 2000 AFL draft, and it was after that that his trademark never-say-die qualities came to the fore. He wrote to every AF: club requesting an opportunity to train with them in attempt to find his way onto the rookie list. Of those that responded, all declined his request.
Undeterred, Mitchell joined Box Hill (Hawthorn's VFL feeder team) and, after initially playing in the Hawks' seconds quickly found himself in the senior side, where he had a fine season. It was impressive enough for Box Hill Hawks' coach Donald McDonald to recommend that the AFL Hawks draft him, which they duly did with pick 36 in 2001. Mitchell would reward McDonald's and Hawthorn's faith in ways greater than they could possibly have envisaged on that draft day.
Mitchell took some time to find his feet at the highest level, and he was in and out of the Hawthorn side for much of the 2002 season. However his VFL form, as strong as ever, saw him win the JJ Liston Medal as VFL best and fairest (playing only 11 games), and eventually earned him selection in Hawthorn's senior side for the final four games of the 2002 season. The last of those four matches saw him gather 22 touches and gave hint to the prolific ball-winner Mitchell would become as his career unfolded.
By the start of 2003, Mitchell had become an automatic selection in the Hawthorn side whenever he was available. While success eluded the Hawks in his early seasons at Glenferrie Oval, Mitchell became an integral part of the team that made its way up the ladder after Alastair Clarkson took over as coach in the 2005 season.
Mitchell's perceived weaknesses were quickly forgotten as his ability to 'get where the ball is' and then deliver it with precision by hand and foot made him one of the league's pre-eminent players. When Richie Vandenberg retired at the end of 2007, Mitchell's leadership qualities saw him rewarded with the captaincy and he promptly led the Hawks to an unexpected premiership win over Geelong in the 2008 Grand Final.
The Hawks lapsed in 2009, missing the finals, but Mitchell did not, averaging 30 touches per game. Hawthorn returned to the finals in 2010 after which Mitchell was replaced by Luke Hodge as captain, a decision which surprised many but one with which Mitchell himself was entirely comfortable. As Hawthorn continued to build towards another flag, Mitchell remained as reliable as ever, never shirking a contest as his team revelled in their self-prescribed label of "the unsociable Hawks". Mitchell had perhaps his best season ever as those unsociable Hawks made it back to a Grand Final in 2012 but were surprisingly beaten by Sydney. They made it up for it 2013, however, defeating Fremantle in the 2013 Grand Final, them had their revenge on the Swans in 2014, thrashing the Swans with Mitchell one of four players over the age of 30 (an AFL record) in the Hawk's premiership winning side.
A year later the Hawks established themselves as one of the greatest teams of all time when they won a third consecutive premiership. Mitchell was a good as ever in that season (averaging 31 possessions) and in that Grand Final win over West Coast, his 34 touches taking him within striking distance of a Norm Smith Medal win.¹
After another fine season in 2016, Mitchell and the Hawks stunned the football world buy announcing that he would join West Coast as a player in 2017, with the aim of moving into a coaching role with the Eagles when his playing days were over. Mitchell thus joined the growing rank of 300-game players (Doug Hawkins, Mick Martyn, Luke Power, Drew Petrie) to finish their on-field careers with one final season at a different club. While the move may have made many Hawthorn fans uncomfortable, Mitchell rounded out his playing career with another reliable 22 games in which he averaged 27 touches, helping the Eagles to a semi finals berth.
His 329-game career (307 of those with Hawthorn) was littered with accolades - five Peter Crimmins medals as club best and fairest, All Australian selection in 2011, 2013 and 2015) and a Brownlow Medal for his outstanding 2012 season (jointly awarded to Mitchell and Cotchin in 2016 after Jobe Watson was stripped of the award as a result of the Essendon supplements saga).
Every one of those accolades serves as a reminder to all of what can be achieved through persistence, hard work and a never-say-never attitude, all of which personify Sam Mitchell, who will no doubt be a Hawthorn Hall of Fame inductee before too long.
Author - Andrew Gigacz
1. Mitchell polled nine votes, teammate Cyril Rioli the winner with 13.