2023 Queensland Football Hall of Fame – Michael Osborne

It’s often said in football that it’s not about the destination but about the journey. Michael Osborne’s 168-game AFL career at Hawthorn was exactly that. It was about persistence. If at first you don’t succeed, then try and try again.

The Labrador junior was overlooked in the National Draft in his draft year and was rookie listed by Hawthorn three times before his AFL career got into stride. Yet he walked away a premiership player, with a standout performance on the big day, a fifth-place finish in the club best and fairest in the same year, and Australian International Rules selection. A star.

Born in Melbourne, he moved with his family to the Gold Coast as a baby and grew up with older brother David and younger brother Peter. He played cricket, baseball, soccer, volleyball, Australian rules … anything except rugby league. That was banned by parents Garry and Sue.

One day he sat on the sideline watching brother David training with the Under 9’s. The coach, Peter Aldridge, walked over and said, “Don’t sit here in the cold – come and have a kick.” He hesitated, but the coach persisted and suggested to his mum she should sign him up. She did. It was a sliding doors moment if ever there was one. He was hooked.

It all came quickly for the hard-at-it youngster. In 1998, Michael represented Queensland at Under-16 level and won the McLean Medal for the best and fairest player in division two at the Australian Championships – an award won by Brady Rawlings in 1997 and later by Richard Cole (1999), Adam Schneider (2000), Jarrad McVeigh and Raphael Clarke (2001), Richard Tambling (2002), Craig Bird (2005), Marlon Motlop (2006), Mav Weller (2008), Callum Mills (2013), Charlie Spargo (2015), Tarryn Thomas (2015), and Errol Gulden (2018). It was also won by fellow Queenslanders Daniel Dzufer (2004), Jackson Allen (2009), Alex Sexton (2010), Jordon Bourke (2011), Lachie Weller (2012) and Brad Sheer (2014).

In 1999, he was a member of the AIS/AFL Academy squad which included Shaun Burgoyne, Leigh Brown, Josh Fraser, Brent Guerra, Ryan Houlihan, Kayne Pettifer and Joel Corey. The script said he was away. He was going to be an AFL player.

But after an early season shoulder injury and what even he labelled a “pretty poor” performance at the Under 18 national carnival, he missed out in the draft. He was shattered. It was the dream.

He spoke with Hawthorn, Fremantle, Carlton and Brisbane about a prospective rookie spot, but the timing was awkward in a year in which the AFL season was played a month earlier than normal due to the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Unlike the accepted norm of later years, there was a long gap between the national draft and the rookie draft, which wasn’t until just before Christmas.

He was offered a rookie spot with the Lions, but, already with three years of senior QAFL football behind him, that would have meant playing in the QAFL again with the Lions Reserves in 2001. He needed a fresh challenge, and after some good advice from people he trusted he chose a training block at Hawthorn to fill in the three-month gap.

“And then one day I got a call from (Lions coach) Leigh Matthews who said ‘what are you doing? You’re a Queenslander. You should be in Brisbane,” he said.

 “I’ve got to be honest … I didn’t know Leigh was a legend of the game. I didn’t watch much footy as a kid. We spent our free time playing on the beach or riding our bikes. I didn’t understand the whole pathway thing.”

As it turned out, Brisbane and Hawthorn both had a vacant spot on the senior list. Rather than locking in a rookie spot at Brisbane he chose to train at Hawthorn in the hope of earning a senior list chance anywhere. It didn’t happen, but after three months living with an aunt on Glenferrie Road at Hawthorn, catching the train to training, he was a happy Hawthorn rookie.

After two senior games and a VFL premiership with Box Hill in 2001 he was delisted. It was the rules. After one senior game in 2002 it happened again. It was the rules. But after teammate Glen Bowyer suffered a broken leg he was elevated to the senior list . He was away.

He was pretty much a regular fit thereafter, and in 2008 had a real breakout year. Except for a late season one-match suspension, which meant he missed a game he would have missed anyway with a broken tailbone, it would have been his 100th in the grand final. But it didn’t matter.

Playing more on the wing rather than in his customary spot at half forward, he collected 26 possessions – the equal of Norm Smith Medallist Luke Hodge and bettered only by Xavier Ellis (28) in the Hawthorn side. He had eight marks, three tackles and a career-best four goal assists to join teammate Brent Renouf in becoming the 12th and 13thQueenslanders to win an AFL premiership. All with a broken tail bone.

In total he played 23 games for 27 goals in 2008 and finished fifth in the Hawks’ best and fairest behind the superstar quartet of Lance Franklin, Sam Mitchell, Hodge and Jarryd Roughead, and was the only Queenslander chosen in the Australian side for the International Rules series against Ireland.

“I’d played against Ireland in the Under 17s so I had a bit of an idea but to play against the Irish under Mick Malthouse in Perth and at the MCG with some of the really elite players was incredible. I loved it,” he recalled.

As a Queenslander living in Melbourne, despite his team success he was something of a hidden secret. When The Courier-Mail published a big milestone feature on his 150th game, recounting his fabulous journey, it included a giant photograph of teammate Rick Ladson.

He played his 168th and last game in Round 8 2013 and finished as he’d started – a VFL premiership player with Box Hill. As much as he hoped otherwise, there was no spot for him in 2014.

“I was pretty disappointed because I thought I could go on. I looked around for a trade but nothing came up so that was it but I’d had a fantastic run and I couldn’t be more proud to be honest,” he said.

“I had so many great experiences and learned so much from a team aspect and the challenges of team sport. It helped me build resilience which is so important.”

He spent two years as a development coach under Malthouse at Carlton and was a playing assistant-coach in the 2016 Balwyn Tigers premiership side in the Eastern Football League before joining ex-Hawks star Andy Collins at Williamstown in the VFL. After wife Pia and sons Freddy and Spencer, now six and five, moved to Geelong, it became all about family and a career in commercial building.

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