Sam Mitchell celebrates Hawthorn’s 2015 premiership with his kids. Picture: Michael Klein
Sam Mitchell celebrates Hawthorn’s 2015 premiership with his kids. Picture: Michael Klein

Mitchell: How biggest trade shock in AFL history happened

SAM Mitchell has revealed the behind-the-scenes manoeuvres orchestrated by Alastair Clarkson's that finished his career at Hawthorn in a best-and-fairest year.

The four-time Hawthorn premiership player has detailed the frank conversation with coach Alastair Clarkson that brought about one of the biggest trade shocks in AFL history, sending him to West Coast in late 2016.

In his autobiography, Relentless, to be released this week, Mitchell also detailed how close he came to leaving the Hawks five years earlier - in 2011 - after feeling as if he was being unfairly treated by the club.

That included Clarkson sending his star midfielder a text message during the 2011 season, questioning him about the last time he had "played well" in a final.

It led to a post-season showdown where the pair resolved their differences, and repaired their relationship, with Mitchell going on to play in three more flags for the Hawks.

In the book, the 2012 Brownlow medallist explained how Clarkson came to his house at 10am on Brownlow Medal day in 2016 to offer a radical proposal he hadn't seen coming.

Alastair Clarkson hugs Sam Mitchell after the 2015 Grand Final. Picture: Alex Coppel
Alastair Clarkson hugs Sam Mitchell after the 2015 Grand Final. Picture: Alex Coppel

"Clarko … seemed a bit awkward from the moment he arrived at our place," Mitchell said. "He asked if we could go out into the backyard to chat, clearly indicating he wanted some privacy with whatever it was he was going to talk to me about.

"Clarko said: 'I know your plan was to go to West Coast (as an assistant coach) when your career is over, but would you have any interest in going there and playing first?'

It was a question, not a statement.

"People love their conspiracy theories, but I'm sure if I had said to him, 'I'm not interested, Clarko', that would have been the end of it.

"But one thing really concerned me. How was I going to broach this suggestion with (wife) Lyndall? At this point, I looked across at Clarko and asked, 'Now that I am thinking this through, how am I going to go inside and tell my wife what you've suggested without it sounding like you're giving me the arse?'

Sam Mitchell kept his move to West Coast quiet at Hawthorn’s best and fairest. Picture: Andrew Henshaw
Sam Mitchell kept his move to West Coast quiet at Hawthorn’s best and fairest. Picture: Andrew Henshaw

"He said I could explain it the same way he had to me, as an opportunity, not an exit path."

Clarkson left without getting an answer, with Mitchell and his wife agreeing to take the opportunity to move west.

"Clarko texted me an hour or so later in his typically to-the-point manner: 'Explore or park?'" Mitchell said. "I wrote straight back to him - 'Explore'."

Mitchell kept quiet about it at the Hawthorn best and fairest, which he won, and it proved a very awkward night.

"I was sitting on a table with some of my best footy friends, including Hodgey, Roughy, Jordan Lewis, Josh Gibson and Grant Birchall," he said.

"In hindsight, the table was a little grumpy that night. I didn't know it at the time, but Clarko had had a similar conversation about opportunities elsewhere with 'Lewy', except the difference was he hadn't been as comfortable with the discussion as I had been."

Mitchell was traded to West Coast effectively for a transfer of picks - the Hawks took 52, 70 and 88, in return for picks 54 and 72.

Relentless by Sam Mitchell.
Relentless by Sam Mitchell.

"The funniest (text) came from Hodgey, who sent a message asking, 'Did you just get traded for pick 88?'"

The situation was very different in 2011 when Mitchell considered a possible move to Collingwood and Essendon after feeling the Hawks were not cutting him any slack following the premature birth of twin daughters Emmy and Scarlett.

"It got to the point where I was so frustrated that midway through the 2011 season I wasn't sure I could continue at Hawthorn," he said.

"I told my manager, Peter Lenton, that I wanted him to put some feelers out.

"I still had a contract for the following year, but it seemed to me that, if the club or Clarko didn't value what I was doing, I might have to find a new club."

It almost came to a head when Clarkson sent him as text message that year along the lines of "when was the last time you played well in a final?'

"Professionally, I had two options - sort out my problem with Clarko, or leave the club. For a period, I was leaning towards the latter. Collingwood was one of the clubs on the radar. Strangely enough, given my history with them, Essendon was another."

A meeting at Giorgios Restaurant in Malvern in the 2011 off-season saw the coach and his star come together again. Clarkson agreed to be fairer, and Mitchell decided to stay, as the pair got their relationship back on track without recrimination.

The club made the Grand Final the following year, and then reeled off flags in 2013-15, with Mitchell at the forefront as always.

"It was the closest I came to leaving the club before I ultimately did - under different circumstances - five years later," Mitchell said.

Relentless by Sam Mitchell. Available now, Macmillan Australia, RRP $32.99.