Bruce McAvaney hosting the 2018 Brownlow Medal. Picture: AFL Photos

BRUCE McAvaney's voice was and still is the soundtrack for countless great Australian sporting moments.

Cathy Freeman's 400 metres at the Sydney Olympics. Countless Melbourne Cups, be they calling the race or the key moments before and after. He was behind the mic for many Australian Open tennis finals as well. Golf, rugby, swimming and cricket ... the list of big time sport he has broadcast with distinction is endless.

But the footy? That is something else. McAvaney's swansong from AFL broadcasting was the 2020 Richmond-Geelong Grand Final, yet as he explains, "Ninety per cent of the conversations I would have with people when they see me out and about is about football.


"Football has dominated my relationship with the punter so to speak. It's been football-centric and you certainly are well aware of just what it means to so many Australians and how important it is."

McAvaney is just the 11th inductee into the Australian Football Hall of Fame in the media category and the first since his longtime co-commentator Dennis Cometti was named in 2020.

And it is the latest in a series of major honours. He received a Medal of the Order of Australia in (OAM) 2002, the same year he was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. In 2019 it was the Melbourne Press Club's Lifetime Achievement Award and last year he became just the second broadcaster inducted into the TV Week Logie Hall of Fame. And just before this current season began, he was awarded Life Membership of the AFL. His is a burgeoning trophy cabinet.

Chairman of the AFL Commission Richard Goyder presents Bruce McAvaney's Life Membership in 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

"I'm not going to compare it and say this one’s better. All I will say is I'm going into the Hall of Fame for the most popular sport in Australia. And to think that with a very, very small list of media that are currently in there, it's like a cricket team basically, and I feel like that adds more weight to it," he says.

So while it is clear that he is reluctant to share how he feels about each of the sports he has covered, his passion for calling football, and what makes it so unique, comes quickly.

"For a start, it's a great game to call. It's a magnificent game and I love it. I was brought up on it so I understood the game. I played it at a reasonable level so it was part and parcel of my life and I always felt at home. I didn't feel like I was looking at something I didn't know," he says.

Bruce McAvaney and Sandy Roberts in 1997. Picture: AFL Photos

"It's over two hours that has ebbs and flows. I mean, there's 36 players on the ground at the one time. There's so many different things that are going on both in an absolute contextual way and in a subtext way."

He also enjoyed calling as part of a team and he was lavish in his praise of co-callers over the years such as Dennis Cometti, Brian Taylor, Sandy Roberts and Ian Robertson, and champions of the game such as Malcolm Blight, Leigh Matthews, Cameron Ling and Wayne Carey, who offered special comments, to name just a few.

Cometti and Carey were enormous figures in his AFL calling career. McAvaney called more than a thousand AFL games in his time, including 10 Grand Finals. When asked if there was one game that he cherished above them all, he nominated the 2016 Western Bulldogs-Sydney Grand Final, the last game before Cometti retired.

Dennis Cometti and Bruce McAvaney ahead of the 2010 AFL season. Picture: AFL Photos

"We had this connection and it was a fairytale finish. I felt like he went out on in a blaze of glory and he was at his best. It felt so rich from the beginning of the day until the end. And when we walked out of the studio together, we knew it was a magnificent game of football," he says.

"I think it was that day because of my relationship with Dennis and because I thought it was a great Grand Final. And I thought I called well and I thought he had just the right finale."

As for Carey, he stands out among the countless champions he has broadcast. "Well, I didn't call Leigh Matthews, but it's still a very big field, so I won't go through them all. But Wayne could make a difference as much as anyone I've seen."

Bruce McAvaney hosting the 1998 Brownlow Medal. Picture: AFL Photos

McAvaney's football broadcasting career very much followed the modern evolution of the sport. He started calling SANFL games for Channel Seven in the late 1970s at grounds such Norwood Oval and Thebarton Oval, where the media facilities were rudimentary, to say the least. When he started calling AFL games for Seven in 1990 – after several years with Channel Ten primarily on racing and Olympics duties – the commentary boxes at grounds such as Victoria Park and Moorabbin weren't much better.

"They were just wonderful to be at because you felt how much those clubs meant to those people," he says. "It was quite raw, as you'd imagine. There was an edge to it that you don't get at the bigger grounds."

Bruce McAvaney speaks after being inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame on June 27, 2023. Picture: Getty Images

Compared to them, the MCG, Marvel Stadium, Optus Stadium and Adelaide Oval of today are veritable spaceships. But the feeling post-game remained the same. For McAvaney, a satisfactory day (or night's) work at the footy was a combination of a good game and a smooth call.

"Feeling like you contributed and you were in the flow of the game, in the rhythm of the game and also a match that was memorable. They're the most enjoyable. I mean you're always personally satisfied if you felt like you did pretty well, but I never felt like I nailed anything. And that's the truth. Because over two hours and you're talking for a long time and there's a lot that happened, you always feel there's no perfection there."

Bruce McAvaney and Dustin Martin at the 2017 Brownlow Medal. Picture: AFL Photos

Apart from better facilities, it was the growth of Friday night football and the use of statistics and data to enhance the broadcasts that were the big changes he saw in his time as a broadcaster. It was Carey and his regular heroics for North Melbourne that helped elevate the prime time games and when Seven regained the AFL broadcasting rights in 2007, after a five-year absence, he said the broadcasts changed from pure sport to entertainment.

"When I started, we used to go and call a football match that would take two-and-a-half hours with maybe five minutes at the start and a five minutes at the end. At half-time you'd go and have a pie. When I finished it was a four-hour show," he says.

"And then, the really sophisticated statistical help that we got when we came back into it was so different to when we started. We (Seven) developed Friday night footy very strongly, but it did go to another level (when Channel Nine held the rights) and probably a harder edge when we got it back. It was newsier and it was a big show."

Bruce McAvaney talks with Leigh Matthews and Mike Sheahan on the set of Talking Footy in 1998. Picture: AFL Photos

Back living in Adelaide these days, McAvaney doesn't see as much football as he would like. He hosts Seven's racing coverage most Saturdays, so it is Sundays on the couch when he becomes a fan.

The one time he truly missed calling games was earlier this year when the football world came to Adelaide for Gather Round. He was actually out of town for most of it, but as a proud South Australian, he said he would have enjoyed "showing off some of the things that shaped me as a kid and reflecting on our great teams and our great players and showcasing it. I really missed not being part of it. It hit home hard, actually harder than I expected it would."

McAvaney is humbled at his induction into the Australian Football Hall of Fame. More so, as someone who was on the selection panel between 2012 and 2020, he understands the company he is joining and perhaps more so, those who might still be waiting their turn.

Bruce McAvaney hosting the 2018 Brownlow Medal. Picture: AFL Photos

"It's pretty hard to get your head around it, to feel like you belong," he says.

"But it is an incredible recognition, one that I hope I enjoy for the rest of my life because I think it is the most popular and most important game in the country. It's the national game.

"Can it get any better than to be a part of its Hall of Fame? I don't think so."