Cyril, Buddy, Ablett Sr: Footy’s great game-changers.
Cyril, Buddy, Ablett Sr: Footy’s great game-changers.

Only Buddy, Ablett Sr rival Cyril

WHAT makes a sportsman great?

Is it his ability to gather votes from umpires, from scribes, from his coaches?

Is it his ability to amass possessions in large numbers?

Or is it his ability to swing games through moments of sheer artistic and majestic brilliance?

Because if it is the latter, Cyril is a true great - no argument.

First, in respect for Cyril Rioli and the issues that have seen him return to his home up north recently, we wish him nothing but good health, good luck and a joyous, happy life ahead.

In a weird, selfish way, I am glad that I don't get to see Cyril the footballer age.

To remember him and his playing brilliance this way, until this point in time, is all we should ever want to recall.

Cyril Rioli was Dermott Brereton’s favourite player ever. Picture: AFL Media/Getty Images
Cyril Rioli was Dermott Brereton’s favourite player ever. Picture: AFL Media/Getty Images

Some of us footballers go on too long because we love the game pretty well more than anything else in life. Then we grow up and start to see the world in a different light.

But because Cyril is bowing out now, he retires without ever having played a bad game. He may have had quiet games, but never a bad one.

In so-called modern times there are only two others to rival Cyril in extraordinary deeds, perhaps his old mate Buddy Franklin and Gary Ablett Sr.

Both have highlight tapes that are just as interesting to watch.

But even then, Franklin and Ablett did what they do by a mixture of raw athleticism and power.

Cyril wove his magic as if it was an art form. And no one before or since he started, has come close to the same finished work of art.

Good luck catching Junior and Buddy.
Good luck catching Junior and Buddy.

Some like Eddie Betts and Robbie Gray may use similar brushstrokes, but Cyril's body of work is an original masterpiece.

I've never seen a player, ever, in the thousands of games I have witnessed, that makes me laugh like Cyril does.

Cyril could make players look plain and simply silly.

Those that hadn't experienced playing against him, just could not be prepared enough for what he could throw at them. Those that had played against him before, dreaded the return.

When Collingwood were at the top under Mick Malthouse, he had a winning edge with some seriously good players.

Back then Herretier LaMumba was known as Harry O'Brien. He was a fantastic player that could take on the opposition's forward pressure player, sidestep around them and skate downfield and kick the ball to Collingwood's great advantage.

I recall the first time he took on Cyril. Rioli gobbled him up in the tackle. The result was a Hawthorn goal.

As good as Heretier was, Cyril terrorised him to the point where Heretier got the football version of on-field paralysis with the ball.

Poor Heritier Lumumba — then Harry O’Brien — never stood a chance.
Poor Heritier Lumumba — then Harry O’Brien — never stood a chance.

In fact, in an era where some cricketing greats struck fear into the hearts of their opponents, like Brett Lee would with short pitched bowling at their heads at 150kmh, Shane Warne came along and made them fear for their future in the game because of his sheer brilliance and artistry.

Rioli was the equivalent in football. He wasn't going to pulverise you like Plugger Lockett would. He was simply going to make you look inadequate.

Some players have a great sidestep. Think Scott Pendlebury. His MO is to load up as if kicking on his preferred left foot, commit the opposition to the smother, dart back inside onto the right foot and run away full steam ahead.

Rioli is the only player I have seen who does not load up on either side when affecting a baulk or sidestep.

He keeps an even weight distribution on both feet and that leaves him the option of exiting to the side least likely and least suspected. Maybe there is one other player who has done this - another Rioli by the name of Maurice.

I used to joke with my colleagues in the media (especially the Geelong supporters) that they would never see Cyril get tackled because his awareness was so good. He was so good, even if Cyril couldn't see them, he could hear their breath.

There were moments when it was as if you could blindfold Cyril, put him in the centre of a pack and he would still find his way out.

In the 2008 Grand Final Hawthorn was hanging in there, but the task was still monumental.

Cyril possessed the same remarkable body control as Maurice Rioli.
Cyril possessed the same remarkable body control as Maurice Rioli.

Geelong was on the verge of becoming a great team. They had everything on field that a club could want.

It was just a matter of time until the Cats started kicking straight and the ball game would be over. The Hawks were giving their all, but like every team has in such a game, they had their moments of doubt, moments where they had hoped to win.

But when Cyril Rioli took on two Geelong players in the shadows of the members stand and he dispossessed them single-handedly, in that moment Hawthorn truly believed.

But then a player like Rioli was purely a ground-level crumbing player. And an expert tackler.

Maybe only Tony Liberatore can match him as the greatest tackler we've seen.

Libba did it through tenacity and will. Cyril had a quicker reaction time than any other footballer I have seen.

All these attributes should mean that Cyril had no right to be proficient as an overhead mark. But he was, in fact he went desperately close to taking mark of the year on several occasions.

 

A rare photograph of the only time someone ever outran Cyril Rioli.
A rare photograph of the only time someone ever outran Cyril Rioli.

 

In the 2012 Grand Final Lewis Jetta with his straight-line speed took on Cyril and won.

It was an amazing duel. Slow motion footage from the front showed that Jetta couldn't just run in a perfect straight line like Usain Bolt. He had to throw in a little sideways veering movement every 10 steps or so.

Rioli would close every 5th or 6th step and Jetta would throw in the shimmy. It was brilliant to watch.

Just like in the real world, the cheetah doesn't always catch and kill the deer.

I have played with some of the game's very greatest, the best of all time. Matthews, Dunstall, Knights, Platten and later on Nathan Buckley just to name a few.

Thank you, Junior. Picture: AFL Media
Thank you, Junior. Picture: AFL Media

Played against Lockett, Ablett, Carey, Silvagni, Madden and Doull.

Since retirement I've seen Hird, Voss, Judd, Jonathon Brown and Nick Riewoldt.

All have been phenomenal and had wonderful careers.

But no one has ever given me the sheer enjoyment of watching our sport like Cyril Rioli has.

Thank you Junior, and good luck.

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