On Saturday Night, Daniel Rioli returned to his native Northern Territory as the Tigers downed Essendon in the Dreamtime clash in Darwin. Writing for aflplayers.com.au, the Richmond forward reflects on the special occasion, growing up on the Tiwi Islands, and the famous Rioli name.
Dreamtime in Darwin.
It’s hard to put words to, it was really emotional.
A few weeks ago, I remember Richmond assistant coach Xavier Clarke telling me they were thinking about moving the Dreamtime game to Darwin.
I couldn’t believe it.
When they announced it, I thought it wasn’t real — it was a similar feeling to being drafted!
To be able to go back home, put on an AFL jumper and play an AFL game at the ground I played at as a kid a long time ago was surreal, I couldn’t believe I was out there.
Getting off the bus and walking into the changerooms before the game, I almost broke down.
I’m not sure Dreamtime in Darwin will ever happen again, so it’s something I’m really grateful for, and something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.
I had all my family and everyone that’s really close to me attend the game, which I’m so grateful for.
There were around 10-12 Riolis there, and plenty from my Mum’s side of the family as well.
It was amazing.
Having the Rioli name, you have that pressure here and there.
Growing up, I used to watch Cyril and Dean and old highlights of Maurice.
When I started my career, I was worried the Rioli pressure might suck me in, but my teammate Shane Edwards once told me they played their own brand of footy, and I’ve got my own brand.
It really helped me.
It’s amazing how many Riolis have played at the highest level, and for me to be part of that is really special.
We’ve also got young Maurice Jnr coming through the under 18s at the moment, so fingers crossed he’s thereabouts at the end of this year, too.
It’s pretty special to have the Rioli name.
When I was a kid, I remember shooting mangoes off a tree, and Dad drove past and said, “uncle Cyril just got drafted to Hawthorn”.
I was like “Wait, what? Hawthorn, what team’s that?”
I didn’t support Hawthorn growing up, but I made sure my eyes were glued to the TV every weekend to watch Cyril play.
When I moved to Ballarat, Victoria, to go to school there, I’d catch the train down to Melbourne to spend the weekend with him and attend his games.
That was pretty special, and I learnt a lot off Cyril.
Coming from a little community up in the Tiwi Islands where it’s nice and warm, I had no idea what to expect when I got a footy scholarship to board at St Patrick’s College in Ballarat.
I didn’t really ask about what the weather would be like.
When I made it to Ballarat and got off the shuttle bus, I was wearing a singlet, thongs, and shorts, and I was absolutely freezing.
The next day, I think it started snowing!
By that point, I was wondering what I’d gotten myself into.
But I got used to the weather and played a lot of footy in Ballarat, so it helped me along the way.
Mum and Dad wanted me to get out of the Tiwi Islands because unfortunately, there were issues with alcohol and violence around the community.
I didn’t want to leave home because I was so familiar with where I was.
It did break me, but I had to move away.
The first couple of days I’d call home, and Mum would say “Just stick it out, you’ll be fine.”
But I managed to make a lot of friends, and within a couple of weeks I was caught up having so much fun.
Once you risk it with what you love and want to do in the future, whether it’s footy, basketball, whatever, listen to the ones that are really close to you and pursue what you want to achieve.
I listened to my Mum and Dad, and it got me to where I am today.
Every time the off-season comes around, I get goosebumps, because I can go back home.
I feel like a little kid again.
I get to go fishing, go hunting, go camping, even just to walk around the community without shoes on, it’s the best feeling.
As a kid, everything was so laid back.
There are no cars, no traffic, you just do your own thing.
On the weekend, there are no shops open after midday on Saturday, and on Sunday, everyone goes out shooting for their bush tucker.
Every time I get back home, I don’t have to worry about anything.
The reception is really slow, which helps me get off social media and just enjoy time with my friends and family.
Writing about it now, I can’t wait to get back!
Last year, I had the opportunity to bring the 2019 premiership cup home.
Willie won his premiership with West Coast in 2018, and brought the cup back home to the Tiwi Islands, which I didn’t know you could do, so I missed that opportunity when we won in 2017.
It was on my bucket list to bring the cup home, and funnily enough we won it the next year.
To see the smiles on everyone’s faces was so special.
Maurice won the Norm Smith medal in a losing Grand Final and never got to win one, so to be able to bring the cup home and get a photo where Maurice is buried meant a lot.
To see the whole community witness it was definitely something I’m going to be treasuring for the rest of my life as well.
I think Maurice Jnr has a few clubs chasing after him, and I’m sure he’ll give me a buzz when the Draft comes up.
I remember getting interviewed by a fair few clubs which was daunting, but you’ve got to embrace it and enjoy it, because there’s plenty of kids out there who would love to be in that position.
If he needs help with anything, I’m always here.
Plus there’s Cyril, Willie, and Dean, who are all there to help him along the way too.