The pitfalls of fame and fortune can change a man, but for Cyril Rioli they’ve just reaffirmed his love for what is important – family, friends and most of all a sense of home.
Whilst tabloids often prefer the more salacious stories of sportsmen’s lifestyles, Cyril’s story is one of loyalty and love having last year proposed to his childhood sweetheart Shannyn. They met as 13-year-olds in Darwin and have been together ever since.
You’d know all of this if you followed him on Instagram. The media shy Rioli, has embraced the photo sharing app as a way to share his life and what’s important to him, and generally Shannyn is by his side.
“I love showing people where I’m from,” says Cyril.
“When I go home, through instagram, I can give people a taste of what I do back north.”
Many of his photos are flashbacks to life as a young boy, and whilst for many he has become a larger than life AFL superstar, back home he’s still the lovely young son of the great Cyril Jnr…and he likes it that way.
“Back home I’m still that same bloke. Everyone doesn’t see me as Cyril Rioli, it’s just junior and that’s a nice thing,” he says.
A keen fisherman and hunter, Cyril’s Instagram is full of videos of him spearing in the harbour or hunting with his cousins, and he has plenty of hair raising stories to tell as well.
“Going out shooting once in a billabong, we were all walking single file and my cousin was at the back with about ten geese pulling along the water. Next thing a croc just came up from behind him and took it and we were half way through the swamp and we just started running!” explains Cyril with his trademark cheeky smile.
As he tells these stories a sense of nostalgia spreads across his face, and those early years learning the craft under the guidance of his father and uncles is clearly something he holds incredibly dear.
“I started fishing when I was maybe four, and did a lot of fishing my old man,” reflects Rioli.
“Looking back now they were the best times, just out there fishing and shooting.”
He grew up idolising his father, Cyril Jnr, watching him dominate for St Marys in the NTFL where he played 263 games and won 12 premiership medallions before retiring at 37. While Cyril grew up in his father’s shadow, he hopes to one day follow in his footsteps and win a flag for his beloved St Marys Saints.
“When footy finishes in Melbourne, it starts in Darwin and I go and watch my cousins play for St Marys and have to admit it’s pretty tempting to pull the boots on,” admit Rioli.
“When I finish playing, hopefully my body has held up and I can go back there and win a flag for the club that I grew up barracking for.”
Whilst he is entering the peak of his career for the Hawks, he is still planning for life after football. He hopes to combine his passion for working with young people with a chance to help up and coming footballers in his community.
“I’ve done my Cert 4 in Education Support, and I know there’s a lot of talent up north so something I want to do is go back there and help one or two kids make it to the AFL,” says Rioli.
This transition is one which Rioli knows all too well can be challenging as a young boy. Rioli moved to Scotch College with his cousin Steven as 14 year olds, but after just three days the pair had packed their bags ready to return home, however at insistence of his mother, Cyril stayed while his cousin went home.
“I was homesick early. I had a cousin come down with me and he left after a week and went back to Darwin,” said Rioli.
“It was very hard. Calling Mum every night and crying. But I’m glad now that I stayed.”
Rioli speaks with emotion recalling the decision, and one must wonder if his desire to help young talented footballers on their path to the AFL is somehow connected to the knowledge his cousin could have made the big time had he chosen to stay at Scotch.
“His life would have been a lot different. He’s someone I looked up to growing up and he was certainly my favourite player. He could have been something special,” says Rioli.
Cyril knows better than anyone how tempting it can be to return home, but hopes he can provide young people with the same support and guidance he received during this tough time on his way to the big league.
“I’m glad I stuck it out and a lot of good things have come my way because I sacrificed a lot to stick it out at Scotch. Hopefully one day I can help some other young guys live that dream too.”
Cyril Rioli has recently started a new business, Three 65 Underwear, with one of his early high school friends Will Strange.