THE term ‘champion’ is thrown around too often in the AFL for my liking, with some players unworthy of the lofty title. Make no mistakes though, both Sam Mitchell and Simon Black are well and truly deserving of the label. Two of the greatest midfielders in the 21st century, both Mitchell and Black had a profound impact on the AFL, winning seven premierships between them while emerging as two world-class role models, for peers and fans alike. As successful as the duo was, only one of them can win this tightly contested Compare the Pair and after crunching the noteworthy, numbers, awards and trophies I think we have a winner.
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ALL THE NUMBERS
MITCHELL – 329 games, 16 seasons, 4 premierships, 26 finals, 71 goals, 227 Brownlow votes, 26.4 disposals per game
BLACK – 322 games, 16 seasons, 3 premierships, 20 finals, 171 goals, 184 Brownlow votes, 23.5 disposals per game
THERE aren’t many players that own better resumes than this famous pair. Brownlow votes, finals appearances, career disposals, you name the list, they’re near the top of it. Taking out a lot of the awards, if you strip it down to just solely the numbers above it’s bloody close to try and pick a winner. Black’s ability to have more of an impact on the scoreboard kicking 100 more goals than Mitchell helps him put a substantial case forward, however, the career Brownlow tally is a good indicator of how much of an impact Mitchell had over his entire AFL tenure.
Edge: Mitchell. Just
Image from thenewdaily.com.au
THERE aren’t many players who have had more of a finals impact since the turn of the century than Mitchell and Black. Both were somewhat spoilt with the teams they played in, amounting to plenty of postseason success during their careers. Of course, both were shouldered a ton of the workload in their teams’ success, but there aren’t too many stars that get the opportunity to play in 20+ finals and hoist multiple premiership cups. If you take away the 2008 flag for the Hawks both teams had a near-identical finals track record 10 years apart. However, we can’t pretend ’08 didn’t happen and that finals run probably gives Mitchell the slight edge over Black.
Edge: Mitchell. Just
MITCHELL – 2015 Grand Final
IT’S tough to pick out Sam Mitchell’s best game or moment with the Hawks champion producing a number of stellar performances on the games biggest stage. However, it’s hard to look past his efforts in the 2015 Grand Final as the Hawks secured a memorable third straight flag while Mitchell was at the peak of his powers. Some argued that he should be acknowledged as the BOG, finishing second in Norm Smith voting (9) behind Cyril Rioli (13). Regardless, Hawthorn’s dominance from start to finish was fuelled by Mitchell’s 34 touches and it’s fitting that in one of the biggest games over the past two decades Mitchell was a catalyst in the win.
BLACK – 2003 Grand Final
THERE may be no player in VFL/AFL history who has played a better Grand Final than Simon Black did in 2003. In fact, since they started recording GF stats in 1965, no player has had more disposals in the big dance than Black did against Collingwood with all 39 of his touches influential ones. The contest was virtually over by half-time with a last-minute goal before the main break from Black giving Brisbane a 40+ point margin and slamming a nail in the coffin in some regards. Three-peating as champions in any sport is a mighty task and Black helped steer his Lions into rarefied air with a game for the ages, unsurprisingly winning the Norm Smith Medal in the process.
YOU want to play the best game of your life when the stakes are the highest and despite both players already owning premierships, their performances when a three-peat was up for grabs are nothing short of spectacular. And yet, there is a clear winner here in my eyes. Black’s 39 touches aren’t only a Grand Final record but in fact, equalled his career-high for disposals in one contest. Take nothing away from Sam, but this category belongs to the Lions legend.
WHEN it comes to awards, this duo accounted for a hell of a lot of them over the past 20 years. Both players claimed multiple best and fairest’s (eight between them), earned three All-Australian nods and won a Brownlow medal during their careers – with Sam Mitchell’s ‘Charlie’ coming with a slight asterisk after Jobe Watson was stripped of the 2012 honour. Originally, after accounting for Simon Black’s Norm Smith medal I had him pencilled in as the winner, but Mitchell’s list of accolades doesn’t stop there.
IN his debut season, Mitchell only managed nine games with Hawthorn and spent the rest of his time in VFL colours. Despite playing just 11 contests, Mitchell STILL won the J.J. Liston Trophy in dominant fashion recognised as the VFL’s B&F, polling 31 votes, including best on ground honours in 10 of those games. The hot start to his career didn’t finish there with Mitchell claiming the 2003 Rising Star award next season earning the nickname “The Extractor” from some commentators for his incredible work around stoppages. Taking all that into account, you can’t look past Mitchell here.
WITH both players relatively early into their retirements they haven’t had a great chance to impact the game outside of their playing career. Mitchell’s move to head over West and join the Eagles for two seasons (one as a player and one as an assistant coach) was met with some scepticism but in hindsight was a wise move, helping West Coast taste premiership success last year. Black transitioned into coaching as his playing career closed as well, sticking with Brisbane for a few years before founding the Simon Black Australian Rules Academy.
BLACK’S institution set up in four states throughout Australia provides students with a sport and educational program helping them earn university-level qualifications while training and playing AFL in an elite academy setting. Maybe I’m biased being a big Simon Black fan, but considering how similar their playing career accomplishments are, I’m giving Black the slight edge for his efforts to expand the game nationally while assisting the next generation of AFL talent.
Edge: Black. Just
Image from australianrulesacademy.com.au
VERDICT – SAM MITCHELL
THE ledger falls in Sam Mitchell’s favour, but this is far from a landslide win by the almighty Hawk. You could make the argument that Black was actually a better footballer at his peak, but when you’re comparing the two stars it’s almost like looking at Player 1A and Player 1B. Hawthorn’s ability to stay near the top of the table for a longer period of time helped to inflate a lot of Mitchell’s numbers, but there are a few that stand out making him a worthwhile winner.
MITCHELL finished his AFL career with more handballs and more clearances than any other player in history, two pretty epic accomplishments over one lifetime. Black was close to Mitchell in both categories, finishing 7th and 2nd all-time on the respective tally’s, despite playing seven fewer games. However, there is a visible gap between Mitchell and Black when comparing most of the numbers from their time as a pro footballer and given Mitchell’s claim to fame as perhaps the most ambidextrous player to ever lace ’em up, I think declaring him as the winner in this CTP is more than fair.