PROLIFIC Hawthorn ball-winner Tom Mitchell capped a stellar 2018 season by claiming his first Brownlow Medal on Monday night.
The overwhelming favourite leading into the count, Mitchell polled 28 votes to be crowned the AFL's fairest and best player, ahead of surprise packets in Collingwood's Steele Sidebottom (24 votes) and Melbourne's Angus Brayshaw (21 votes).
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"It's a great feeling," Mitchell said.
"I remember watching these events as a young kid and seeing some of my favourite players … I idolised Gary Ablett and Sam Mitchell and they were two players that received this medal. It's a surreal feeling to be in the same position."
Sidebottom, a rank outsider, enjoyed the best Brownlow haul of his career and posed the biggest threat to Mitchell throughout the count, leading with just six matches remaining.
However, the Hawthorn accumulator moved back into the lead with a best on ground display against Carlton in round 18 and didn't look back after that.
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A one-vote performance against Geelong in round 21 took him eight votes clear of Sidebottom with just two matches remaining, securing him the Brownlow Medal.
"The exciting thing about the Brownlow is that it's so unpredictable," Mitchell said.
"No one knows what's going to happen. I was sitting there like everyone else, a little bit unsure. Steele had an outstanding season, he thoroughly deserved the medal.
"It was always going to be a tight finish, whoever was in the running. But I was fortunate enough to just come away with it."
Brownlow Medal top 10
28 Tom Mitchell (Hawthorn)
24 Steele Sidebottom (Collingwood)
21 Angus Brayshaw (Melbourne)
20 Patrick Cripps (Carlton)
20 Max Gawn (Melbourne)
19 Rory Laird (Adelaide)
19 Dustin Martin (Richmond)
18 Dayne Beams (Brisbane)
18 Jack Steven (St Kilda)
17 Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong)
17 Brodie Grundy (Collingwood)
A hot start to the season saw Mitchell deliver three best on ground performances in the first three matches of the season against Collingwood, Geelong and Richmond. However, he would have to wait another eight weeks before his next three-vote outing.
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Sidebottom and Adelaide's Rory Laird closed on Mitchell in that time, while suspended Fremantle captain Nat Fyfe led at the halfway point of the count with 14 votes.
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But Mitchell would finish with six best on ground performances for the year, enough to see him surpass Sidebottom and Brayshaw to claim footy's highest individual honour.
Sealed with a kiss. Hannah Davis congratulates Tom Mitchell on his win. Picture: AFL Photos
Carlton bull Patrick Cripps and Melbourne ruckman Max Gawn rounded out the top five.
"My heart was definitely racing," Mitchell said.
"It's funny, I haven't really had time to reflect yet. This is all a bit of a whirlwind, but I'm sure it's something I'll do when I reflect on how my 2018 season was.
"I'm just looking forward to getting out there and celebrating with my teammates and family."
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Mitchell fell just one disposal short of the record he set last year for the most touches in a single home and away campaign, averaging 35.7 per game. He also led the AFL for clearances and handballs and was top three in the competition for contested possessions.
That weight of numbers saw the 25-year-old become the sixth Hawk to claim the Brownlow Medal and the first since Sam Mitchell in 2012 to do so.
However, Mitchell started his career at Sydney, playing 65 games for the Swans before crossing to the Hawks at the conclusion of the 2016 season.
While the 25-year-old was unsure whether such an opportunity would have unfolded for him had he remained interstate, he said he was fortunate for their faith in him.
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"I was very grateful for the opportunity Sydney gave me," Mitchell said.
"Going to the club my dad played at, they taught me a lot about my football and I think I still improved in Sydney. Some of my best friends are still in Sydney, so I catch up with them and speak with them on a weekly basis.
"I'm very happy at Hawthorn. I just consider myself very lucky to be coached by Clarko (Alastair Clarkson), one of the greatest coaches of all time, and have such great leaders around me."
Last year's winner Dustin Martin presents Mitchell with his Brownlow Medal. Picture: AFL Photos
Mitchell played every game of Sydney's 2016 season, as the Swans reached the Grand Final. However, his previous four years at the club yielded just 39 appearances.
Speculation lingered around his future throughout that time, before he eventually crossed to the Hawks in exchange for pick 14 ahead of the club's 2017 campaign.
"I went through some challenging times," Mitchell said.
"It was well documented. I played a lot of reserves football and my time in the senior team was pretty limited in terms of coming off the bench a lot and limited minutes.
"I always had a lot of self-belief. I knew that I could take my game to another level, but there's no way I could have done that without the support around me."
Mitchell's father, Barry, played 170 games for Sydney – making him eligible to be recruited to the club as a father-son with pick 21 in the 2011 NAB AFL Draft.
He also played 38 games for Carlton and 13 for Collingwood across a distinguished career, with Mitchell touching on the importance of his impact on his footy.
"He's been a massive supporter of mine," Mitchell said.
"He taught me everything I knew about the game and he's been such a great support off the field as well. My mum, my brother and sister … my brother is my best mate and my sister and my mum are at every game supporting me.
"I can't thank them enough for the sacrifices they make for me so I can live out my dream."