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Rioli Takes a Mark

In June, Hawk star Cyril Rioli was granted indefinite leave by Hawthorn to return to Darwin for family reasons. Just ahead of Round 16, he announced his retirement, effective immediately. He said he had thought about it for the past year and believes he has made the right decision for himself and his family.

In making the announcement, he said,

Football has been my life but it’s always been difficult being away from home. Now is the right time to go home ... I love the Hawthorn Football Club and I cannot thank them enough for the opportunities they’ve given me and the way they’ve embraced me and my family over the past 11 years. I can walk away ... having achieved everything I could have ever dreamed of ...  I’d like to thank the Hawthorn fans for all their support over the years, it has been an honor to play in front of you each week. I’d also like to thank my manager, Adam Ramanauskas ... for all the support he has have given my family ... Lastly, thank you to my wife Shannyn and all my family, whose support and sacrifice has made it possible for me to live out my childhood dream. “I’ll always be a Hawthorn person... ".

Coach Alastair Clarkson paid tribute to Rioli as one of the most influential players the game has ever seen, “Cyril has been an outstanding servant of this football club for a long ... there have been very few players that have brought as much excitement to the game ... His ability to influence a contest with a minimal amount of disposals is like no player I have ever seen and that’s why the whole footy world loves watching him play. Cyril came into our club as an 18-year-old kid and leaves an integral part of the fabric of the brown and gold family and the history of our game."

Rioli, 28, debuted in Round 1 2008 after being dratted in 2007. He went on to win four premierships - 2008, 2013-15 and play a total of 189 games, kicking 275 goals. In 2015, he won the Norm Smith Medal, just like his uncles Maurice (1982) and Michael Long (1993). He was named All-Australian in 2012, 2015 and 2016 and was a Rising Star nominee in 2008.

Rioli's retirement came as no surprise to Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett. According to Kennett, the prospect of retirement came up last October. He also said he and the club would assist Rioli in providing him with opportunities to one day return to Hawthorn in some capacity.

Kennett said in an interview on SEN Radio, “The first thing is for Cyril to tidy up his affairs here, return to Darwin, and establish himself up there with his family. We’ve suggested ... that he returns if it so suits him, and if he’s able, to attend the Peter Crimmins Medal (club best and fairest awards function at the end of the season) ... and I hope he will do that. You need space just to reflect, and I think Cyril will probably take six months off and he’ll think about what he can do and he’ll think about the offers that come his way ... we will work with him in any way we can to advance his opportunities, and if he wishes to work with us to develop ours.”

Kennett described Rioli as an icon, not only of the club but also the game, “His speed was electric, his ability to turn to dispose the ball was unbelievable, and he used to be able to turn on a sixpence ... He was a humble man with an extraordinary talent who was very important to us at Hawthorn ... he will always be remembered for his ability and his personality.

Former Hawk star Dermott Brereton, now in the media, said he got more enjoyment from watching Rioli than any other player. and went so far as to say that his highlights reel would be unmatched. He said on SEN, “I’ve never enjoyed watching a football match like I do when I watched Cyril when he’s in the action. You see high marking, you see great tackling, and you see insane goals ... He’s got so many highlight moments. There will be blokes who will say there were better players overal ... Leigh Matthews, John Platten and all these champion players.But no one will exit the game with a highlights tape like Cyril Rioli’s. The stuff he has done, the stuff that he could do, you could not in all honesty teach a kid to try and attempt those feats. It’s beyond comprehension that he should have been able to achieve some of those types of play.

Fellow commentator Bruce McAvaney said Rioli would be in his all-time best team. He pointed out how Rioli was often able to create something from nothing and stand up when needed at  critical times during a match.  Players took to Twitter to pay their respects to Rioli, wishing him nothing but the best for the future. Below are some edited tributes:

Chad Wingard (PA):  Thanks for inspiring millions to play ... On and off the field influenced not just indigenous Australians but our whole nation, thanks brother ... Absolute freak of a player

Nic Naitanui: Thank you brother for being a champion role model and idol to a lot of us. Congrats on a stellar career, the game won’t be the same without some Cyril magic

Andrew McLeod (retired, Adealide Crows): The reason our game is so awesome, and my favourite player from the modern era ...

Scott Pendlebury (COL): Fantastic career ... was amazing to watch and never fun to play against.

Joel Selwood: ... one hell of a player. Never fun to play against but always great to watch.

Shane Crawford (former Hawk): Cyril Rioli retirement feels like a death, a sad day for Hawthorn and AFL football lovers  #freak

Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (ESS): Going to miss watching you showing us what is a Tiwi Magic. Thanks for the great show you put on for us and that we can do the same ... when we go out and play ...

Dean Rioli (RICH): Going to miss seeing you put on a show and learning off you every weekend unks! After watching you on TV and me getting drafted I am so lucky to have played against you ... something that I will never forget. Thanks for all the memories Uncle Junior Boy #Idol

The full tweets and fan responses can be viewed at

Author note: one item that certainly won't be on the highlights reel - unless tacked on at the end for a laugh - but is certainly remembered by those who saw it, is an amusing miss by Rioli. It was during a 2016 preseason game against Geelong. Rioli had gained possession out of a pack and streaked toward goal. Entering the goal square with no opponent anywhere near him and less than 5 feet out directly in front, he missed an absolute sitter. Dermott Brereton, commenting on TV for that game, said through giggling, “I knew if I watched footy for enough years that I’d see Cyril do something like that." Even Rioli was bemused by the inexplicable miss, chuckling to himself as he found his position for the subsequent Geelong kick-out.


Article last changed on Wednesday, August 29, 2018 - 3:50 PM EDT

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