Two months in and one of the genuine disappointments of the 2004 AFL season has been the repackaging of Channel Seven’s Talking Footy.

Once the domain of articulate football analysts, the Talking Footy couch has a various stages been home to the likes of Mike Sheahan, Caroline Wilson, Robert Walls, Tim Lane, Bruce McAvaney, Malcolm Blight and Leigh Matthews. With that sort of pedigree the program established itself as “must-see TV” for AFL fans.

Unfortunately the 2004 version is a basket case. It started the season in disastrous fashion and has not improved. This week’s effort on Tuesday night was more like an amateur circus than an analytical football program.

The show commenced with Tim Watson and Craig “Scoop” Hutchison taking the moral high ground over the Nathan Thompson depression story. Channel Nine’s Tony Jones broke the story on their news and named Thompson as the player suffering the illness.

Firstly, Watson claimed that rival Jones had erred in linking the illness to Thompson’s form slump. Shortly after, Scoop joined the panel and Timmy wrapped him up for not breaking the story on Seven’s news and then asked him why he didn’t name Thompson despite knowing that the Hawthorn forward was the player suffering the illness.

Scoop said that he had consulted with the Club and depression support group Beyond Blue, and on their advice he had not named Thompson in the interests of the player’s health.

Funny that. Scoop showed no such concerns for Justin Kotschitzke’s mental health two months ago. Scoop’s name is still mud at Moorabbin after he incorrectly named the St Kilda ruckman as being at the centre of the recent rape investigation.

If he’d got Hawthorn officials offside as well, Scoop’s ability to break the big stories would have been further dented. So whose interests was he really protecting when he didn’t name Thompson on the Seven news?

An innovation introduced by the Talking Footy team this year has been the Price Check segment. This involves 2UE’s Steve Price providing a weekly critique of the performance of the football media. In theory this is a good idea. However in execution it’s found severely wanting.

Price is using his segment to play politics, settle scores and pump up his mates. A few weeks ago he provided his “Top Ten” lists of the best and worst of the media performers who are ex-footballers.

In his ten best he included his old mate, the very tired Sam Newman, as well as Southern Cross Broadcasting stable-mates Gerard Healy, Dwayne Russell and Rex Hunt.

Newman hasn’t provided any genuine, in-depth football analysis in more than a decade and in the case of Russell, Price probably included him because the former Geelong player had replaced the late David Hookes on 3AW’s Sports Today. I’m not sure that fact alone makes Russell a good broadcaster.

And if Talking Footy has taught viewers anything this year it is that Rex Hunt’s best as a broadcaster has well and truly passed him by. His “Face Off” segment with former Tiger Mal Brown was a disaster and was quickly dumped. Hunt was then given the responsibility of conducting post-game “vox-pops” which have also now been shelved.

This week Price went on the attack in a manner similar to the pit-bull terrier which he so despises. “Friday nights don’t get any easier when Eddie McGuire pencils himself in to call his own team,” hollered Price. This is not Price’s first swipe at McGuire. A couple of weeks back he attacked the Nine personality after that network had prevented James Hird from appearing on Talking Footy.

But the issue of McGuire calling Collingwood games is well and truly old news. However, that didn’t prevent Price from highlighting examples of where he thought McGuire’s bias had had a detrimental impact on the Nine telecast. It was a pointless exercise that really presented nothing new.

As reported in The Australian’s Media section a couple of weeks ago, Price has been receiving elocution lessons. These lessons must have given him some confidence because he ended with a swipe at McGuire’s elocution. “Please Channel Nine get him (McGuire) something else to do on Fridays like practicing to say ‘miwl-yon-aire’ and ‘Deltra Goodrum’. Until next week, I’m certainly not Eddie McGuire.”

If Price wants to play those sort of petty games then he’d better make sure that he gets some basic facts right. During his attack on McGuire, Price showed some footage and made reference to McGuire’s reaction after a Collingwood player who Price described as “Adam Didak” had missed a shot at goal. Seems Didak wasn’t the only one who missed a set shot from straight in front…

McGuire is clearly not in Price’s little black book of approved mates. Why that’s the case is not that clear but Price may well have an issue with those who McGuire calls mates.

One needs to only read a few selected chapters of Derryn Hinch’s recently released autobiography to gain an indication of the closeness of the relationship between McGuire and the book’s author, a man Price now detests.

And as Hinch noted it was McGuire who at the post-funeral wake of David Hookes highlighted to 3AW staffers their hypocrisy. On the one hand 3AW profits from a segment such as the Rumour File, which once caused a near dust-up at Crown Casino between Price and McGuire when they ran a false item suggesting Carla McGuire was pregnant. Yet Clark Forbes, Ross Stevenson and others were outraged at Hinch’s revelation that Hookes was estranged from his wife and was in a relationship with another woman. Did this exchange at the wake upset Price to the extent that he is now expressing his anger at McGuire via his segment on Talking Footy?

Earlier in his segment, Price discussed the ridiculous situation that occurred at the SCG last Sunday where the umpires wore a yellow strip similar to the Hawthorn uniform.

“At the SCG on the weekend you had to rub your eyes to believe that Jeff Gieschen could send the umpires out against Hawthorn wearing yellow.” Price said.

“Think about all the colours of the rainbow Jeff and yellow is just about the only one you wouldn’t have them wearing. A suggestion for all you geniuses at the AFL. Have you ever heard of white?”

Price was right to highlight this but his spray was directed at the wrong person. Why did Gieschen cop all the heat? Mike Sheahan rightly pointed out that the decision on the colour worn by the umpires goes much further up the AFL hierarchy and is the responsibility of Adrian Anderson, the AFL’s Director of Football Operations.

Why no Price barrage for Anderson? Because he’s a mate! Prior to joining the AFL Anderson was a defamation specialist at Corrs Chambers Westgarth and represented Price in his case against Crikey. What good is a position in the media if you can’t help out or protect your mates?

CRIKEY: If Pricey decides to sue over this one, at least we know he’ll have to find a new lawyer.