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The Age

Scoring boundaries

Author: Ashley Browne
Date: 25/02/1999
Words: 841
          Publication: The Age
Section: Green Guide
Page: 14
RICHARD OSBORNE WAS asked whether he'd be available for a chat first thing in the morning. Say about 9.30am.

``Can you make it about 10.30am? It takes time to unwind after a match."

After 17 years and 283 matches as a player, Osborne knew the night football drill, where it can seemingly take forever for the adrenalin to slow down enough to allow even a few hours' sleep. And four matches into his boundary-riding career, little has changed. Night football and a good night's sleep remain mutually exclusive.

Still, if and when Osborne's head does touch the pillow after a night out at Waverley Park, he can be well pleased with himself. The raps on Osborne, as they have been on Channel 7's other footballing new boys John Worsfold and John Platten, are good. There was much discussion about the merits of the ``outs" at the Seven footy selection table following last year's grand final, but early suggestions are that the ``ins" will more than hold their own.

Osborne has so far been a solid boundary rider. His observations are accurate and having only just stepped off the playing field himself, little takes place on and off the ground that escapes him.

And given that the bench personnel at every club can change considerably from year to year (Osborne himself played for four clubs), there are enough people he can sidle up to for a quiet word on injuries or tactics, although he hasn't been a journalist for long enough yet to recognise the differences between clubs playing coy and being flat-out uncooperative.

``The clubs are guarded with the information they give you, so you don't want to push them," he said earlier this week. ``As a member of the press you have to respect the wishes of the coach."

Osborne might find himself at odds with several veteran media colleagues on that score, but he is looking forward to milking what he can out of them. ``One thing `Dipper' has already told me is that you have to earn the trust of the clubs and that's something I seek to do."

It was, and is, a trait of the TV commentators he came to admire while on the field himself. His favorite is Seven colleague Bruce McAvaney, but he also fondly remembers Doug Heywood, the superb ABC TV football commentator from the '70s and '80s, who never had a harsh word for anyone. ``From what I remember, he never bagged me," Osborne says. Another favorite is American football commentator John Madden, who is probably without peer in the world as a specialist commentator.

Once the home and away season starts late next month, Osborne appears set to tread a well worn path on the MCG boundary line, where Seven's director of sport, Gordon Bennett, said he will be based for much of the season. He will also play a part in Seven's Sunday morning, Rex Hunt-fronted panel show.

But he does have his eye on the grandstand and hopes to join Worsfold and Platten, who have both come straight from retirement and into the booth. And if he heeds the one instruction he received from Bennett before his first match (``Just speak well"), he will.

Take out the new boys (apart from Osborne, Worsfold and Platten have appeared just once), and Seven's night football coverage doesn't appear to have changed much from last year. Bruce McAvaney and Sandy Roberts talk up each match as though they counted for premiership points, Dipper still prowls the boundary line as though he owns it, John Russo still adds little to the commentary while Peter McKenna has again been consigned to the grandstand.

McKenna's is an odd assignment. His role is to talk about the forward structure for both sides, although his location high above the forward pocket means he can only comment on one team's forwards. Perhaps he has been squeezed out of the commentary box. If McKenna is to remain part of the Seven team from next year, he'll no doubt be praying the commentary box at the new Docklands Stadium has enough room for him.

Also interesting about the Ansett Cup this year is that radio has opted out of a major role. The new radio rights agreement struck by the AFL and stations throughout Australia gives the licence holders the right to broadcast all pre-season matches, not just the final. But with the exception of local broadcasters in Adelaide, Darwin and K-Rock for the Geelong match last Saturday night, the competition has all but been ignored.

3LO is believed to be giving some consideration to broadcasting the semi-finals next weekend, but otherwise, the pre-season competition won't hit the airwaves until the grand final on 13 March, which the radio stations have traditionally used as an opportunity to clear their larynxes and try a few things out before the real stuff starts a fortnight later.

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