Rioli’s AFL genius earns him ‘Norm’

As he had done on the MCG to ruthless effect, Cyril Rioli cut to the chase.

The AFL grand final winner’s media conference was wrapping up when Rioli was asked how it felt to be the AFL’s first four-time indigenous premiership player.

Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson interrupted, noting teammate Shaun Burgoyne also has been in four flag-winning teams.

“Does he have a ‘Norm’?,” Rioli then quietly asked, prompting plenty of laughter.

Indeed, for all his brilliance, Burgoyne has not preceded Rioli in winning a prized Norm Smith Medal as best afield in a grand final.

Rioli was a popular Norm Smith Medallist on Saturday with 13 votes, four clear of teammate Sam Mitchell.

Rioli was Hawthorn’s firestarter in their 46-point win over West Coast on Saturday, kicking two first-quarter goals and creating massive headaches for the Eagles with his speed and tackling around the forward line.

Midway through the third term, with the Eagles’ comeback creaking, Rioli brilliantly intercepted a handball and set up Jack Gunston for his second goal in two minutes.

Hawthorn’s lead was 37 points and the game was as good as over.

There is a rich indigenous background to Rioli’s win.

He was rapt that Adelaide’s two-time Norm Smith Medallist Andrew McLeod, another indigenous star from the Northern Territory, made the presentation.

It made Rioli the sixth indigenous Norm Smith Medallist – and remarkably the third from the Tiwi Islands.

His uncles Maurice Rioli (Richmond, 1982) and Michael Long (Essendon, 1993) also won the award.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to follow in their footsteps and very humbling to receive the award – and especially to get it from Andrew McLeod,” he said.

But there was also a sombre family aspect to the medal win – Rioli returned home in June for the funeral of his cousin Fabian Brock.

Rioli dedicated the medal to Brock.

“That was my driving force for the second half of the year,” he said.

Rioli has enjoyed a much more straightforward season than last year, when he was restricted to just 12 games because of hamstring injuries.

He did not play from round 15 until the grand final.

This year, Rioli played 24 games.

Clarkson loves the influence of Hawthorn’s indigenous players, saying they bring so much live and love to the club.

Rioli is just as big a wrap for his coach, having taken him north to spend time with his family during the off season.

They went hunting and Rioli said his coach out-shot him.

“Poor geese – they were stiff, weren’t they?,” Clarkson said.

Clarkson has been Rioli’s only AFL coach.

“I hope he’s there when I finish,” Rioli said.

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