He was responsible for towelling up West Coast in the 2015 grand final but Sam Mitchell, now the midfield coach at the Eagles, has a crucial message for his players before Saturday’s grand final against Collingwood: Don’t stress about it.
Mitchell, a four-time premiership winner at Hawthorn, cut down the Eagles with 34 disposals on a dark day for West Coast in which many of the club’s star players froze.
Forward pair Josh Kennedy and Jack Darling were particularly poor, while star midfielder Elliot Yeo won just two kicks on the biggest day in football.
Mitchell knows what it is like to underperform in a grand final, though, acknowledging in his recently published autobiography, Relentless, that his performances in Hawthorn’s 2008 and 2013 premiership wins disappointed him.
He told The New Daily the lessons learned in those two matches helped him play a starring role in Hawthorn’s successes of 2014 and 2015.
“I did have a bit of trouble in a couple of [grand final] games early in my career,” Mitchell said.
“In hindsight, I probably took them too seriously … you don’t have to be serious to play well.
“The older I got, the more I realised that I was actually going to play better the more relaxed I was.
“It took me time as a person to have the confidence to feel relaxed and not think that I was taking a shortcut or not taking it too seriously. It was quite a learning curve for me.”
It is a lesson Mitchell says he will be sharing with the Eagles playing group.
“Now at West Coast, I’ll try and help players that might be in a similar boat,” he said.
“Hopefully [they] learn the lessons that I learnt too late.”
Mitchell also said there was no greater driver than failing to perform in the finals, something West Coast is sure to use as motivation in the build-up to the much-anticipated clash against the Magpies.
“The hard thing about below-par finals performances is it’s such a long time before you can rectify it,” he added.
“One of the great things about our game is you normally only have six to eight days before you can make amends. But when it’s a final, you have to wait a year, and that’s a best-case scenario. You might not even make the finals.”
Collingwood made headlines when news of its player-driven alcohol ban during finals broke last week.
Mitchell abstained from drinking throughout the entire season right through his career and details in Relentless how even when an injury ruled him out for the remainder of a campaign, he still declined to have an alcoholic drink.
“It’s obviously better for you, physically, to not have a drink,” he said.
“For me, it wasn’t really a decision or an option. Once I decided I was going to do it, I just never did it [drink during a season]. It wasn’t an option to think that I should.
“I wasn’t really tempted. That wasn’t how my mind worked around it.
“I always felt that it worked for me and it gave me a barrier of confidence that I was doing something a little bit better than everyone else.”
Mitchell also noted that it was not for everyone, citing an example of when Luke Hodge tried a self-enforced booze ban.
“He couldn’t get a kick,” Mitchell laughed, but added that after “a couple of beers” the Hawthorn champion “started playing good footy again”.
Mitchell is highly likely to leave West Coast and return to Victoria for the 2019 AFL season as he seeks another coaching job closer to home.
Widely regarded as having one of the finest minds in football, Mitchell has surely attracted the interest of every Victorian club since announcing his intention to leave the Eagles.
And the lessons he has learned on grand final day are just one of the many reasons he is hot property for AFL clubs.
Mitchell’s autobiography, Relentless, written with Glenn McFarlane and published by Pan Macmillan Australia, is on sale now.