AFL 2016: Leigh Matthews says 300-game Hawk Mitchell ‘one of the great geniuses’

“If he gets a metre, that’s enough.” Matthews says decision-making is a key Mitchell asset. Photo: Scott BarbourLeigh Matthews finished his career at the end of 1985, a year after Greg Williams began his.
Nanjing Night Net

Matthews, arguably the greatest player of all time, watched “Diesel” pick apart opposition teams on a weekly basis, finishing on 250 games.

On Sunday Sam Mitchell goes a milestone better, playing game 300 against Richmond, and Matthews says the similarities between the two midfield generals are uncanny.

“It’s scary. It’s just amazing,” Matthews said.

“You would’ve thought he could’ve been Williams’ son.”

“There’s nothing special about them athletically. They’re not breakaway midfielders who take off with the footy and break lines … but they find the ball and keep making the right decisions.”

Matthews believes Mitchell will go down as one of the game’s great midfielders and said he belongs in the same discussion as Michael Voss, James Hird and Nathan Buckley.

“He’s in that standard,” he said.

“You’re talking the elite, the very elite.”

It has been an incredible 299 games thus far, and the numbers reflect it.

Mitchell has averaged 26 disposals, 10 contested possessions and six clearances.

The famous number 5 played his first 30 games in the number 28, making his debut against Richmond at the MCG in 2002.

He picked up his first Brownlow vote later that year against Geelong, an opponent that would come to generate famous clashes between the two teams and against whom he captained a premiership in 2008.

The midfield master is courageous, tough and skilful, but above all else he always picks the right option, Matthews said.

“He is one of the great geniuses,” he said.

“I think he almost 100% of the time makes good decision with the ball.

“Once he gets the ball in his hands he has an amazing ability to, well, it’s like the old saying: ‘time stands still’.”

Mitchell has also played in an era where the game has changed considerably and players have had to adjust.

One-on-one contests have evolved into team defence, and getting the ball long and deep into the forward 50 has been superseded by keeping the ball in there and setting up structures to create forward half turnovers.

Matthews believes Mitchell has adapted to that evolution as well as anyone.

“The zoning positions and structural attitude of modern of coaching has suited him,” he said.

“Footy is a lot less opponent-vs-opponent; its’s team-vs-team. That means the good players, if you get a little bit of space; the good players kill the structure.”

“If he gets a metre’s space, that’s enough.”

The 33-year-old superstar has signed on for the 2017 season that is likely to see him surpass Hawthorn legends Don Scott, Chris Langford and Shane Crawford on the games-played list.

Matthews said there’s no reason why he can’t go on and play into 2018 and beyond.

“We’re all adjusting our thoughts now. There are so many guys 33 or 34 … (Mitchell) doesn’t seem to be any different to what he was 10 years ago. We say the same about Brent Harvey (who is set to equals the AFL games record this weekend).

“There are so many players defying the aging process because of conditioning.”

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