Sam Mitchell, Alastair Clarkson, Hawthorn coaching succession plan, Caroline Wilson

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AFL insider Caroline Wilson has passionately defended her reporting of Hawthorn’s coaching succession plan amid an explosive backlash from Sam Mitchell and warned the former Hawks star to be “very careful”.

Hawthorn announced earlier this month that Mitchell would take the reins as head coach at the end of next season under the club’s highly-publicised succession plan.

However, earlier this week Wilson claimed that there was a meeting at Hawks HQ with Mitchell, outgoing coach Alastair Clarkson, Leading Teams boss Ray McLean, Hawthorn footy boss Rob McCartney and other senior club members, and after this meeting Wilson said those in the room left with the feeling that Mitchell wanted the top job in 2022 and for Clarkson to depart after this season.

“Absolutely not. That has not happened,” Mitchell told SEN radio on Wednesday, refuting Wilson.

“We’ve been working on some form of succession plan for such a long period of time, if you’ll do me the privilege, I’ll explain how long ago this started and how it’s still all on track. There’s still plenty to work out of course.

“Everyone talks about that meeting like it was a one-off or the only time we’ve ever met. I heard some of the media reports talking about it and it’s like, if you’re in an organisation like Hawthorn, you are going to have all of these discussions all of the time and if you all agree on everything, then what’s the point having so many people doing it?

“You have to have people with differing views all of the time. Part of what happened on that particular meeting … we caught up, everyone knew we were doing it, and at the end of that meeting we did not have every answer, which would be plain for anyone to see that if you’re working through something this big, it’s a continual work in progress.

“Everything we are working towards is Clarko coaching next year and me maintaining the role which I love working with these young fellas and watching them progress and now a heap of them are getting games at the moment and I’m absolutely loving that.”

Clarkson and Mitchell in ‘mediation session’

Later that evening though on Footy Classified, Wilson hit back at Mitchell’s response, standing by her reporting.

“I’m completely confident of my sources,” she said.

“Why on earth would I make something up? Why would I put my reputation on the line knowing that people at this meeting were going to come out and have their say?

“It is absolutely possible that Sam did not say, ‘I want to coach next year and I want you gone’ – I never reported that.

“What I did say was that people left that meeting with the impression that Sam Mitchell would rather be the senior coach next year and I’m sorry, but it is not Sam’s 100 per cent desire to coach in tandem with Alastair Clarkson next year.

Wilson defends Hawks succession report

“It might be today after meetings have been held since that meeting and I might add that some of those meetings have been held without Alastair Clarkson present, which would not normally happen.

“It is just patently not true for Sam to say there are not leaks coming out of Hawthorn. I’ve never seen Hawthorn leak like this.

“And Sam should be very careful about what he says about his premiership coach as I’m hearing back that he’s been saying to people at that football club, that he should just be careful.”

Former AFL coach Ross Lyon said the lack of support around Mitchell’s claims on the subject was “deafening”, suggesting Wilson’s reporting was correct.

“It’s unedifying and if there was serious pushback, I think both Sam and Alastair would have done something together today,” Lyon said.

“There was only one party in that meeting that has spoken about Caroline not saying the truth. It’s deafening on the other side, the silence.

“I really feel for Alastair. When he signed the four-year deal, there was no mention of a succession plan.

“It’s been thrust on him in a short period of time and the respect to say we had a 20-minute meeting to plan it out says it all about this arrangement and I cannot fathom what Alastair has been put through.”

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