Brownlow winner Tom Mitchell has his eyes set on the 2020 season

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Australian Rules Football is a rollercoaster ride for all involved; the players, the coaches, the fans. There are fantastic highs juxtaposed with cruel lows; but it's all about perspective. Just ask Tom Mitchell from Hawthorn. As it stands, the 25-year old is the best player in the AFL; a title that has been arduously garnered over 24 gruelling games in the 2018 premiership season.

But as a result of a devastating injury sustained in January, Mitchell will hit the sidelines in 2019, depriving fans and admirers of another stellar season. "It was the first training session of the team calendar year, and in fact the first training drill as well," he explains.

The mental challenges are just as hard, if not harder, than the physical challenges.

"It was an unlucky collision that saw my leg coming off second best. I broke both Fibula and Tibula bones. I'm currently waiting for the swelling to go down in my leg before I can focus on walking again; it's definitely going to be a slow process."

In person, Mitchell exudes a sense of calmness and warmth - the opposite to how one may find him to be on the football field; menacing. Amassing 848 disposals in 2018 - the most ever recorded in a premiership season - with a number one ranking for both disposals and clearances, awarded the Hawthorn Best & Fairest, and the AFL Player's MVP, it was his Brownlow Medal feat that has solidified his status as one of the game's greatest. But as it has been seen with many a Brownlow Medalist, the ebb and flow of performance can dwindle, mainly due to pressures and expectations to uphold form.

"Prior to the injury, I was in great shape, both physically and mentally. However, it's the nature of this game to expect setbacks at some point. In my case, it's a major setback," says Mitchell. "I'd say this is the biggest challenge of my career thus far, but it's given me the time to sit back and reassess life; it's funny the little things you take for granted, like simply walking down the street."

Mitchell's silver lining in his current ordeal, however, is perspective. With a year away from the game, it will give him a chance to partake in extracurricular activities otherwise not possible during a football year. "You never really think about it but a career as a professional footballer is such a short period of your life, so I'm definitely going to use the next 6-12 months to explore some opportunities, whether that be in business, the media, coaching, or my studies. My situation could be much worse, so I'm lucky and grateful for the things I do have... but I'm definitely going to miss footy this year."

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Prior to his injury, reflecting on 2018 - the year that was - was an enjoyable one at that. Mitchell is somewhat out of his comfort zone as he sits amongst Italian tailored garments at P. Johnson Tailors in Windsor. "I suppose a few things have changed for me [after winning the Brownlow Medal]. Around the time of the Brownlow and towards the end of the season, there was a lot of attention from the media and the industry, and I definitely felt the pressure, which can be quite daunting for a player," he says. "But to attend such a prestigious night and to walk away with the game's highest honour…"

Mitchell pauses for a split second, and it seems the magnitude of his achievements are only just realised. "It's something that I will reflect on at the end of my career with great fondness, and a moment I will never forget."

Shiny medals and big trophies aside, Mitchell isn't phased by the accolades. "I was really fortunate to have been able to have achieved what I did last year, but now i'm focusing all my energy on getting back on the pitch. I'm confident that if I do my rehab properly and look after my body, I'll be ready for the 2020 season."

It's this mentality, along with his talent, that positions Mitchell as one of the most respected and loved players not only at the Hawthorn Football Club, but in the greater footballing community. Attributed to being selfless and hard-working on and off the field, Mitchell is a player that not only garners the best out of himself, but out of his teammates. "Tom is definitely developing as a true leader at Hawthorn and is looked up to by a lot of the younger guys," explains Jaeger O'Meara, Mitchell's teammate and good friend. "He always leads by example on and off the field which is a real credit to him. The club is devastated by his injury, but we know he'll be back at it in no time."

And although they may not have Mitchell's presence in the midfield this year, the Hawthorn Football Club will utilise his knowledge and game skills in other ways. "There are a number of aspects and ways in which I'll help the club this year," explains Mitchell. "I will help mentor the younger players coming through the midfield, and try and contribute and help where I can … I think adversity comes everyone's way at some point in their career or life, so it's important how you prepare for those challenges.

Mitchell is now focusing on simple things like walking his dog, meditating and surrounding himself with family and friends. "Headspace [in the AFL] is massive, and I think it's something underrated in that it's a long season and the mental challenges as a professional footballer are just as hard, if not harder, than the physical challenges."

It's safe to say that his resilience prevailing, we may see Mitchell return in ways never seen before; an enduring champion in the making. "Right now, I'm facing my challenges with a positive attitude and purely focusing on getting back to playing; it's a simple as that. I know it's going to take time but hopefully I can persist through the tough times and come out the other side a better player than before."