Michael Osborne leaves the field after injuring his knee in round seven last season
HAWTHORN veteran Michael Osborne has cautiously set his sights on playing in the NAB Cup as he enters the final stages of recovery from a knee reconstruction.
The 163-game small forward tore the anterior cruciate and lateral ligaments in his left knee against Melbourne in May last year.
In an interview with AFL.com.au this week, in which he also revealed that complications early in rehabilitation had caused self-doubts about his playing future, Osborne said he was now close to resuming a full workload.
"The knee is feeling really good," he said.
"I've had a pretty steady increase in training load since Christmas, and the knee and the body has been responding pretty well to it, so I've got a lot of confidence in it.
"The only thing I'm not doing at the moment is the competitive game-style sort of training, but hopefully I'll be introduced to that in the next couple of weeks, and maybe even by NAB Cup be ready for a bit of game play.
"It (the pre-season competition) is not so much a target, but it'll just loosely be around when the medical staff think my knee's had enough load to cope with full-on training and perhaps games.
"It might be a quarter during the NAB Cup at some stage, it might be a full game by the end of NAB Cup.
"It's an achievable goal, but it just depends on what happens between now and then."
Although running out against Geelong in round one of the season proper would be nice, Osborne said it was not all-important.
"It'd be great to be back [for round one]; I've sort of had that as a goal, but in terms of returning from injury, you can't be too focused on the return date," he said.
"I think the main thing is to be playing at the end of the year, rather than the start of it."
Explaining how the early weeks after surgery had not gone to plan, the normally upbeat 30-year-old admitted to questioning himself.
"Being a pretty positive person, I never really thought about retiring, but there was a little bit of doubt, maybe, about whether I was going to get to a good enough level to keep playing or to get back into the team, and be 100 per cent fit," Osborne said.
"There was a lot of swelling, and it took a while to go down, and I also got a bit of infection.
"That was away from the joint, but it still took about a week to get over that, and it pushed my recovery out a little bit more.
"I was off my legs for a bit longer than expected, so I lost a lot of muscle tone in that leg, which made the rehab process a bit more drawn out.
"I was pretty much just skin and bones on that leg when I started my rehab.
"You almost have to learn to walk and then run all over again, it feels so foreign at the start.
"I'm really confident with how it is now, but when you're going through that process, you wonder why it feels so weird."
Having been delisted at season's end (for list management purposes) with a pledge he would be redrafted provided his mind and body were "right", Osborne officially became a Hawk again with the club's final pick at November's NAB AFL Draft.
The popular clubman, entering his 13th AFL season, now feels he still has much to offer Alastair Clarkson's line-up as it tries to go one step better than the 2012 Grand Final defeat.
"I think it'll be a challenge, but I'm pretty confident with what I've been doing on the track, and the way the knee's going that, given the opportunity, I'm going to win my spot back," he said.
Mark Macgugan covers Hawthorn news for AFL.com.au. Twitter: @AFL_MarkM.