Buckley would later acknowledge that he didn’t “have the locker room” – the support of the influential players – when he took over a seasoned and talented team (which went close to back-to-back flags) from Mick Malthouse a decade ago.
So, Mitchell will need the locker room on-side. The demographics of Hawthorn’s list are more favourable to him, however, in comparison to Buckley. The youngsters who’ve played under Mitchell at Box Hill are said to be enthusiastic about him, and if some senior players harbour doubts, there are fewer of them at Hawthorn and some will exit in the next two years.
Buckley had the unpleasant task of removing premiership players and paid a hefty price for his vexed relationship with the hedonists of the rat pack.
Clarkson’s earlier exit means Mitchell has a four-year deal – a rarity for first-time coaches. One parallel with Buckley is that the club – the board and chief executive Justin Reeves, in particular – will be desperate for their favourite son to succeed, in part to justify the unedifying mess, acknowledged by Kennett on Friday, that comes with removing a successful coach who has re-shaped the club.
Mitchell and Clarkson had butted heads already in their conversations, and there was, according to club sources, an apparent gap between their favoured game plans (Mitchell favouring a more offensive style than Clarkson). The Hawks also faced difficulties around the appointment and retention of assistant coaches and support staff.
In the first two years, Mitchell will have solid backing from the fans, many of whom were happy to see a change of coach but wanted Clarkson to exit in a less shambolic manner. In those first couple of years, he’ll be blessed to be judged according to the Clarkson Hawks of 2019-21, rather than the three-peat side in which he was so instrumental.
By 2024, however, the expectations will rise significantly. Mitchell’s third season, indeed, will be crucial. Hawthorn, a club that doesn’t know premiership droughts, will be four years into a full-scale rebuild (if they don’t jump up earlier).
Kennett, himself, is due to give up the presidency at the end of 2023 – having used the pandemic to justity another term – and Mitchell can only hope that the next president is as invested in him as Andrew Newbold, president for the three-peat, was in Clarkson.
For all the messiness, as “The Handover” turned into something closer to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Mitchell has had enough time to grow into the job.
Mitchell predicted on Friday that one day there would be a statue of Clarkson at the club (presumably in the paddocks at Dingley). As the Hawks have demolished their coaching monument, he can only hope that his recruiting staff find a raft of players comparable to he and Luke Hodge over the next few years.
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