13/04/2024
Tom Mitchell has achieved what most people can only dream of and will add another accolade to his career when he plays his 200th game tonight. (Photo: Collingwood FC.)

Tom Mitchell has achieved what most people can only dream of and will add another accolade to his career when he plays his 200th game tonight. (Photo: Collingwood FC.)

Three clubs, a Brownlow Medal and a Premiership. There is no doubt that Tom Mitchell’s story is one of the most unique and amazing ones out there.

The 30-year-old will walk out to play his 200th game of AFL tonight when Collingwood takes on Brisbane at the Gabba in a special milestone for the star.

Across his 199 games, the inside midfielder has had 5718 disposals, including 2396 contested possessions. He has also laid 1121 tackles and kicked 84 goals.

“It’s been a long journey to get to 200, but it’s something I’m sure I’ll reflect on later in my career and be very proud of,” he said yesterday.

“I would never of thought I’d be playing the milestone at Collingwood that’s for sure.

“It’s a challenge (against Brisbane) but it also presents an opportunity as well.”

A teenage Mitchell who passionately grew up supporting Carlton wouldn’t imagine that he would be playing for a rival club in his 200th game.

Mitchell started out as a highly-touted youngster who dominated in Western Australia throughout the junior ranks chasing the ultimate dream of playing in the AFL, looking up to his father Barry who had already forged an impressive career at the top level.

Fast-forward 200 games and ‘Titch’ has achieved almost everything a player can dream of, boasting one of the most illustrious and decorated careers that the game has ever seen.

He is a two-time All-Australian, three-time Peter Crimmins Medallist, a Brownlow medallist, a Premiership player and a great of the game.

He also holds the record for the most individual disposals in a single game with a staggering 54 back in 2018.

Plus a number of other records including the VFL/AFL record for the most disposals in a home-and-away season and first player to get 50 disposals multiple times (three occasions) to list a few.

Mitchell was drafted father-son to the Swans with pick number 21 in the 2011 national draft – with many saying he would’ve been taken with a much higher pick had he not been under the father-son rule.

Tom’s father, Barry played 221 VFL/AFL games also across three clubs (Sydney, Collingwood and Carlton), but it was at the Bloods where he made a name for himself as one of the best rovers in the competition. He earned All-Australian honours in 1991 and won the Bob Skilton Medal.

He struggled to break into a strong side at the Swans despite making headlines with some of the most dominant performances you will hear of in the reserves side. He even collected 64 disposals in one match with four goals and 22 score involvements.

Junior Prospect

Mitchell was born in Melbourne before moving to Western Australia as his father was coaching at Fremantle following his own retirement from AFL. A footy-mad teenage Tom was attending Hale and kicking the footy with every spare second that he had.

A passionate Carlton fan, Mitchell was a small but classy player, and it was clear from a young age that he knew how to find the footy.

Mitchell quickly rose in popularity during his junior footy days and was highly regarded as one of the most impressive juniors in the state. He dominated in the Under-16 Championships for Western Australia winning the MVP of the titles in 2009.

Kevin “Shifter” Sheehan spoke highly of the 17-year-old who carried some impressive footy bloodlines. Sheehan said Mitchell was one of the best players at the carnival and applauded his ability to win the football in the contest.

In 2010, Mitchell continued to draw comparisons to his father as he collected 41 disposals in his colts’ debut for Claremont in 2010.

While completing Year 12 at Hale, Mitchell was drafted to the Sydney Swans and would fly over to train with the team during school holidays. He had signed a five-year contract with the Swans prior to the Under-18 Championships in 2011 and was destined to be an exciting player of the future at the level.

Sydney Signing

Mitchell was picked up by Sydney with pick 21 in the 2011 National Draft by the father-son rule after Fremantle placed a bid on the talented youngster and Sydney matched it.

Mitchell dominated into the NEAFL in his first year but was unable to break into the senior side as he watched his teammates go on to win the 2012 premiership. He had to work hard and finally got his debut in Round 10, 2013 against Essendon.

The following game against Adelaide he had 31 disposals, a goal and 10 tackles showing football fans a glimpse of what he would go on to display across the next 10 seasons. Mitchell received the rising star nomination for this game.

Despite his ability to win the ball and put up impressive numbers each game, Mitchell was unable to become a mainstay in the side and throughout his 65 games at Sydney Swans, he faced some frustrating times doing everything he could to turn his dream of being a reliable, consistent, starting midfielder into a reality.

After a few years of playing finals since the 2012 premiership, Sydney finally got back to the promised land and Mitchell was a huge part of that season, consistently performing well in the engine room. They lost to the Western Bulldogs in the drought-breaking grand final for the boys from Whitten Oval where Mitchell collected 26 disposals, 2 goals and 13 tackles.

Had the result went the way of the Swans, Mitchell could’ve been a premiership player and Norm Smith medallist at the age at 23. Despite being just one win away from achieving the ultimate success, Mitchell requested a trade to Hawthorn less than two weeks after the loss.

Hawthorn Highlights

Mitchell moved to the Hawks on the back of their three-peat in the hope that the side could have one last tilt at the cup and he could taste the elusive premiership glory that had evaded him at his previous club.

People are quick to forget that Mitchell fit in club seamlessly at the club polling 25 votes in the Brownlow in 2017 – his first season there. He finished second to only Dustin Martin in the count. He was named in the All-Australian side and won the club best and fairest.

The following year was another massive one for Mitchell, he quickly proved he was the best ball-winner in the competition averaging more than 35 disposals per game.

This included a staggering 54 disposals in Round 1. It came to Brownlow night and he went one better than the year previous, polling 28 votes to have Charlie hanging around his neck at the end of the night.

He thanked his dad for the influence he had on his career as well as a number of his junior coaches from WA, reminiscing on back to where it all started.

2018 had earned him another All-Australian selection, another Peter Crimmins Medal and an AFLPA MVP award, but there was still something missing. The chance to win a premiership had went begging for another year after a semi-final exit against Melbourne.

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Adversity and Resilience

Coming off the best individual season of his career, the first training session of 2019 with the Hawks. And disaster struck.

He collided with a teammate in a handball drill and immediately knew “it was a pretty severe injury”. Mitchell had suffered a horrific broken leg that would see him out for the entirety of 2019, and maybe even some of the 2020 season.

“It was actually the first drill of the first session back … I probably overshot a bit too early and I ended up breaking both bones in my leg,” Mitchell told Hawthorn FC at the time.

“I just remember seeing my teammates looking at my leg and they were probably in more shock than what I was.”

The future of his football career was uncertain within that moment with a risk that he may not play again, or even walk properly again. And while the surgery gave him a big scar on his leg, the mental scars that the injury left were far worse with Mitchell being haunted by the incident months on.

“For the first month or so I was waking up with a few nightmares,” he said.

“I just kept replaying the incident in my head over and over and at night I’d wake up grabbing my leg as if it had just happened.”

However, after a long rehab and recovery process, Mitchell got back to full fitness and played his first game in 555 days in Round 1 of 2020. While the terrible leg injury brought with it some of the hardest and loneliest times, it was an experience that changed Mitchell’s perspective on the game.

“The injury has been quite a life changing experience for me, before it happened footy was my whole life and I was so consumed by it,” he said.

“The injury has given me a new perspective and outlook on life, I’ve learnt how to slow down, take it all in and just enjoy the process.”

Hardship at the Hawks

While Mitchell watched on from the sidelines in 2019, it slowly became apparent that the hope of winning a premiership was fading as the side slipped to ninth and narrowly missed finals. The side didn’t finish above 13th for the next three seasons as they underwent a rebuild on the back of the Hawthorn dynasty.

Sam Mitchell took the helm and began with trading out a number of club veterans for young and fresh talent.

Despite polling 25 Brownlow votes in 2021 with an impressive season with resulted in his third club best and fairest, the following season Mitchell was getting less time in the midfield than he ever had. He only attended 53 percent of centre bounces in 2022. Older players such as Jack Gunston and Jaeger O’Meara were being traded and the writing was on the wall.

Mitchell achieved greatness at Hawthorn playing 106 games for the club including some of his prime years in the midfield. He broke records. He made history as a Hawk. But he was never able to experience the elation of winning a final in the brown and gold.

At the conclusion of the 2022 season Mitchell knew he was being squeezed out of the midfield at Waverley Park and requested a trade to go make his way to the Magpies.

It was a nervous wait for the inside midfielder as the trade deadline drew closer without any deal being done. He waited nervously on the streets of Miami on what was meant to be a relaxing holiday reloading his phone again and again. Finally, his trade was done, and he landed at the Pies just inside the deadline with just 180 seconds left before the trade period ended.

Flying high as a Magpie

Mitchell arrived at Collingwood and pulled on the number six jumper which was a special moment, it is the same number his father wore in the black and white 30 years earlier in his one season at the club.

2023 was the year that Mitchell had been chasing, he slotted into the Collingwood side well under Craig McRae. Mitchell adjusted to his role superbly in the black and white performing consistently throughout the season. It had been seven long years since he had been on the grand final stage playing on the last day of the season.

Mitchell was an integral part of the formidable side that won the minor premiership before going all the way to defeat Brisbane Lions by just four points in one of the greatest grand finals in modern history – all of this in just his first year at the club.

Now playing his 200th game, Mitchell will be hoping his side can turn the tides from the 0-3 start to the season and record his 109th career win.

“I do feel the move has rejuvenated my career. I feel really happy. I feel like the club has really embraced me, all my teammates, the coaches, they really encourage me to go out and do what I do well. I feel really supported,” Mitchell told AFL Media.

“I haven’t been this happy in my footy career ever. I come to work every day with my mates loving what I do with a smile on my face.

“I can’t say that was always the case, I’ve had plenty of ups and downs throughout my career, but I’m enjoying it.”

Mitchell has never been far away from success throughout his illustrious career, but he also didn’t forget the hard work and persistence that he displayed through not getting a game at Sydney, to the broken leg and not experiencing finals success at Hawthorn, as well as having to start fresh at three different clubs. Now Titch adds another accolade to his record breaking career at the top level, the 200 game milestone.

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