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Schoolmate, teammate, opponent honour Cyril

Cyril Rioli sent the footy world into a spin when he announced his retirement from the sport at the age of just 28. Among the many tributes to the superstar Hawk, tracked down a schoolmate, a teammate and an opponent to get their insight into one of the most exciting players to grace an AFL field.

Nick Smith (Sydney/Schoolmate)

At school, Cyril and I would have played 20-odd games together. I was a year above him and he played in year 10 and 11 when I was in year 11 and 12. Even then, you could see glimpses of what he eventually would do in his AFL career, you knew he could do some special things.

But what he has accomplished, you wouldn’t have been able to predict that back in his school days.

He was really laid back. I remember him being a great kid at the time — pretty reserved but still happy to have a chat with you. He was a great bloke who you would want in your side.

Every week I’ll look at the opponents I’m playing on, study the vision, and dissect how they performed the week before. If I see they’ve done something well, I’ll say to myself, ‘I could have done that to stop that,’ and prevent them kicking goals in that situation.

Whereas, when I used to watch Cyril’s tape, I’d say to myself, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to stop that.’ You’d go up for the ball with him, and he would have already hit the ground and would be back up, while I was still just hitting the ground.

He was phenomenal in the way he moved. He is what the fans come to see and he’ll be sorely missed.

It’s hard to say who was the hardest player I’ve played on, but he had some traits that were impossible to stop almost.

Ben McEvoy (Hawthorn/Teammate)

I first met Cyril 11 or 12 years ago now when we were in the AIS Academy together — we would’ve been 16, I think.

My first recollections of him were playing with the round ball against the Irish. Then our relationship had a bit of a hiatus, I guess, for six or seven years when I was at St Kilda.

He was always special and magical and could do things that no one else could do. He was fairly adept at adjusting to playing with the round ball, that’s for sure.

Having Cyril at the Hawks was really great for me when I arrived because he was one of only two blokes in the entire Hawthorn list that I actually knew or had previously met.

He’s such a genuinely nice, humble guy. He doesn’t say a lot but is always good company because he’s so relaxing to be around.

He likes playing a prank or two but he certainly doesn’t do it a lot. He definitely has a cheeky side and he was always laughing at something despite never having a lot to say himself.

Cyril has a great sense of humour and always lit up the room with his smile and laughter.

The thing about him is that he continually surprised us all. When you play footy, you like playing with guys who are reliable and predictable but Cyril was so unpredictable. Just when you thought you’d seen it all, he’d come out and do something that no one had ever seen before.

He’s so unique and only needed the smallest of moments to change the course of the game. He was unbelievable to play with.

Those special moments we saw were mostly things that came naturally to him and were spur of the moment. He plays with that natural flair and he was special enough to do that at the highest level.

He always tried stuff at training and mucked around but he was freak in what he could pull out on game day.

Coming in for the 2014 Grand Final was a challenging thing for Cyril. Because he is so humble and had been out for so long, he knew he’d be taking someone else’s spot.

He never wanted to put himself above anyone else. But that premiership was special because that was my first year at the Hawks as well so it was amazing to share that with him.

Adam kennedy (GWS Giants/opponent)

It was a while ago now but my main memory of Cyril is the time, I think it was in our first year in the competition and I don’t remember much of the game specifically, I played on him in the last quarter.

Cyril just decided to jump right back in the goal-square and put guys like Jarryd Roughead up the ground. It’s fair to say I was nervous.

His movement made him basically unable to track as a defender. You’d have one eye on the ball, glance back at him, back at the ball and the next time you’d look at him, he’d be five metres away.

Because it was Cyril Rioli, he had that aura about him and you’d automatically feel pressure wherever you were on the ground. Half the time, you just didn’t want him to make you look stupid in front of the crowd.

If we weren’t going to win the clearance, I was keen for the 17 other blokes to be in our defensive 50 because it was a bit of a nightmare.

As a young bloke at the time, I just tried to be in his back pocket and do everything I could to stop him kicking three or four in a quarter.

It was obviously a bit tough for us early days and we were told to learn from all of our experiences. I think that’s why I have that vivid memory still with me today.

For any player, let alone one in their first or second season against the Hawthorn side of that era and matching up on one of the most exciting players ever, I’m glad it happened because I learnt a lot from it.