Cyril Rioli the champion with a killer instinct is a huge loss to the AFL Jonathan Horn

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Cyril Rioli the champion with a killer instinct is a huge loss to the AFL Jonathan Horn

Better Hawthorn players have departed recently but none left a hole the way his retirement will

Hemmed in by the Monash Freeway and the lawns of Kooyong Tennis Club, Scotch College is tucked away in one of Melbourne's most affluent suburbs. Its alumni populate the boardrooms, parliamentary benches and legal chambers of Melbourne. Back when Jeff Kennett was boarding up state schools, his education minster toured Scotch and could barely contain himself. 'You can smell the excellence,' he said.

When the 14-year-old Cyril Rioli landed from the Tiwi Islands in the school's boarding house, he was shacked up with the children of the squattocracy. His story is beautifully chronicled in Emma Quayle's book The Draft. A barefoot footballer, he'd worn boots for the first time just 12 months before. 'There are hundreds of Cyril Riolis up in the Tiwi Islands,' Gerard Neesham once said. 'But none of them can live in Melbourne.' Rioli's cousin, also on a football scholarship, lasted a week. Cyril wanted to join him. He ached for home. Melbourne was freezing. The kids were all toffs. His mum, Michael Long's sister, put her foot down. 'She kinda forced me to stay,' he said.

Scotch is a lovely place to watch football. You can perch yourself up on the hill alongside the Presbyterian chapel, block your ears to all the real estate talk and watch what are often high standard junior games. The school has produced several footballers of note. But Rioli was in another stratosphere. Watching old highlights of him, one is struck by the maturity of his game. While the other kids are tripping over themselves, Rioli is feather-footed and cool headed. He zeros in on sap after hapless sap like a guided missile. Michael Long once said years of hunting geese honed his core stability and competitive instincts. 'Going for the kill was almost like nailing a goal,' he said. 'If you didn't make the kill, you didn't eat.' His nephew, also a keen hunter, was cut from the same cloth. Even as a schoolboy, he was a killer.

The knock on him was that he wasn't fit enough. And he was shy. 'Sorry, I can't talk,' he told one recruiter. 'His testing was abysmal to be truthful and his psychological stuff worried us,' Adelaide recruiter Matt Rendell said. In what was a hot draft, Adelaide selected Patrick Dangerfield. Melbourne, meanwhile, plumped for Cale Morton. Essendon, who had been watching Rioli since he was 10, baulked, opting for David Myers.


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Date Posted: Thu, 5 Jul 2018, 03:51 am

Tags: Cyril Rioli

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