Sam Mitchell savaged by AFL greats after tactics backfire in brutal Hawthorn loss

The Hawks coach went into safe mode in the final quarter against Port Adelaide - and it cost him.

Sam Mitchell has been called out by a number of AFL greats after he attempted to protect Hawthorn's lead against Port Adelaide and played way too conservatively. The Power trailed by 41 points deep into the third quarter on Sunday, but kicked the last six goals - including Darcy Byrne-Jones' match-winning effort with just two seconds remaining - to pull off an insane victory.

It was the only time the Power led in the entire game in a heartbreaking finish for the Hawks and coach Mitchell. Hawthorn dominated the first three quarters, with Blake Hardwick booting five goals - four in the first term - as the visitors surged to a 31-point lead at quarter-time.

Sam Mitchell and Jack Ginnivan during Hawthorn's loss to Port Adelaide.
Sam Mitchell brought Jack Ginnivan off the field among a number of moves that backfired on Hawthorn. Image: Channel 7

The Hawks led by 22 points at the half and a Cam Mackenzie goal in the 23rd minute of the third term put them up by 41 points. But Mitchell decided to shut up shop and protect the lead in the final quarter - a decision that backfired brutally.

Mitchell decided to take Jack Ginnivan off the field and put Hardwick at the back - taking away two of their biggest scoring threats. Speaking after the game on Fox Footy, David King and Dermott Brereton were both critical of Mitchell's tactics.

“He went into save the game mode way too early Sam Mitchell,” King said. “A lot of people talk highly about his coaching, I can’t recall a player kicking five goals in the first three quarters of a game and getting moved down back.

“You can throw straight at me Jack’s being managed, he’s coming off the field, (but) you’ve got a guy on fire (in Hardwick), he’s kicked five, he goes down back. So you’re telling the team ‘we’re going into save the game mode’. We’re going to put (midfielder Will) Day behind the ball, we’re going to chip it around.

“Twenty-five inside 50s to four in the last quarter (to Port Adelaide). They’ll be livid they lost that game the Hawks. Full credit to Port, they kept coming at them, but when you go into save the game mode for 20 minutes of footy, you give them a sniff.”

Port Adelaide players, pictured here celebrating after their extraordinary win over Hawthorn.
Port Adelaide players celebrate after their extraordinary win over Hawthorn.
Zak Butters and Darcy Byrne-Jones.
Zak Butters and Darcy Byrne-Jones lead the team off the field after Port Adelaide's stunning win.

Brereton was particularly critical of the use of Day. “You saw in that final quarter, there was some footage showing the ball was about 70 metres out from Port Adelaide’s goal and Day is in the goal square by himself looking to quarterback the situation. He’s your best ball winner, he’s your smartest at clearance, so I think that is probably more (questionable) than the Hardwick one.”


King added: “(Hawthorn) just couldn’t get their hands on the ball and when they did, they went into safe mode, they went wide and they lost too many contests. They invited Port Adelaide back into the game. They didn’t look like it for three quarters and they went bang, right between the eyes.

“We can talk about player performance, we can talk about all sorts of things. But the mindset of the group for 20 minutes is defend.

“It’s not five minutes, it’s not when they’re within a goal or when the momentum had completely swung. I think they gave over momentum. I think that’s the decision Sam made at three-quarter time is you can have momentum, we’re going to give you another enemy, the scoreboard and the clock. And they just overran them. They’ve stole one here.”

Mitchell said in his post-match press conference: "The rational part of my mind thinks, sure, there's some positives in the game somewhere. But my emotional part of me is just not feeling any of them just at the minute."