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Montagna: Nick exceeded all expectations

I don’t remember meeting Nick Riewoldt for the first time, although I’m sure the first thing that struck me was that hair!

What I do remember, is Nick asking me to move in with him and Justin Koschitzke at our best and fairest night at the end of my first year in 2002.

That was a big milestone in my life. It was the first time I moved out of home and I benefited from soaking up everything from Rooey’s professionalism.

Nick is a competitive person, he always has been, and I not only saw it firsthand at the club but also in the backyard while playing cricket or table tennis. During those early days he was very single-minded about his football career. He was so focused and so determined to be great that, and even he would admit this, he became a bit highly strung.

But I always got along well with him. We have similar interests and love everything sport, traveling and our bond grew with each passing year.

Not long into our careers, our lockers became situated next to each other and as our teammates from the early days began to drop off, we became closer mates.

We socialise a lot together — he’s funny in his own way — very intelligent and someone I could always turn to for advice. He has a level head when it comes to that stuff.

Everyone saw the impact he had on the field, he basically carried our club for a period of time there after a few guys left the Saints around 2011 and 2012, and it’s become public knowledge how manic he was at training with his preparation each week.

But what the public weren’t privy to was the period of time when his sister passed away.

What a tough time that was. Anyone who has gone through the loss of a loved one would know the hurt associated with it and Nick was no different.

How he was able to compartmentalise it all, keep a brave face and present so well publicly was inspirational.

He had just started his own family, was still the captain of our club — a club that was trying to rebuild — and he was still our best player. How he was able to lead us during this time and perform so well each week was unbelievable. I still don’t know how he was able to do it.

Then came the charity and the work he’s put into building that from scratch is just another layer to his determination — although having experienced so much of this already, I’m not totally surprised!

It’s hard to imagine how much he’s put in behind closed doors to get Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision to where it is now.

There was a lot of media associated with Maddie’s Match and I know at times he was exhausted from the effort put in to the annual event. He was across everything and, although he had moments where it was a real battle for him, he still managed to do it all and do it well.

He presents himself so well publicly that not many would’ve known how tough it would’ve been for him at times.

His character went to another level after this period of his life. He’s well organised and so driven to making things happen.

Rooey’s changed a lot over the journey. I mentioned early days he was caught up with his performance to the point where it would manifest into anxiety, but as time evolved and after he had his family and Maddie passed away, other things in his life became more important — which isn’t dissimilar to most footballers as their careers go on.

His perspective on life changed. Football wasn’t the be-all and end-all anymore. It was good for him to find that and once he found it, he got it spot on — in typical Nick Riewoldt fashion, he perfected it.

I’d always try and crack a gag with him in the rooms before a match just to get him to lighten up a bit and towards the end of his career, we’d be sitting in the physio room having a laugh. It was nice to enjoy that together by the end.

I think Nick is enjoying retirement. He’s really embraced the Texan lifestyle with his in-laws.

He’s always loved food, any kind of food. His skinfolds were a bit of a sore point for him because he loved his food so much but now he’s enjoying eating all the meats Texas can provide. He’s vein enough that he’s now realised the need to lose a bit of weight for the cameras in the footy season.

For a competitive kid from the Tasmania/Gold Coast, he sure has exceeded all expectations as an athlete and as a person and I’m not alone in thinking that.