FROM chasing coke bottles to winning premierships, Cyril Rioli has come a long way since he was just a young Indigenous boy with a dream.

Growing up in the Tiwi Islands, the story of Rioli’s journey to becoming one of the game’s elite players is a good one.

His memories of playing footy as a youngster, where his love for the game first developed, is far from that of playing Auskick at a local footy ground.

For Rioli, a dual premiership player with Hawthorn, footy memories as a youngster involve being bare foot, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts while chasing around a footy. That was, if he was lucky.

With a twinkle in his eye, the star Hawk recalls what it was like for him, as a young Indigenous boy with a dream.

“I grew up on the Tiwi Islands and I can remember having bare feet, shirt off, just wearing shorts and kicking the ball around,” he told

“There was about 20 kids chasing just one footy.

“At times, if we didn’t have a footy, we would just chase around coke bottles.

“That’s a very long time ago now but getting home at night you’d have to scrub your feet because you had dirt up to your knees.

“Those are good memories.”

They are memories, details, stories that have made Rioli the person and player the AFL community, not just Hawthorn fans, have come not only to love and marvel at, but to admire.

He makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up when he evades not one, not two but sometimes three or four opponents to find space where there is none.

For all that Rioli has brought to the AFL, with his dashing runs, unbelievable evasion, elite skills, superior chasing and tackling and freak goals, we have his father to thank.

Rioli grew up idolising his father, Cyril Jnr, whom he is named after and grew up watching play every Saturday.

Now 47, Rioli’s dad is still the man the Hawthorn star goes to home to watch play footy in Darwin.

“I’ve loved football since I was a baby,” Rioli said.

“Someone I always looked up to was my dad - watching him play footy up in Darwin was always exciting, going down on a Saturday to watch him.

“He’s 47 now and still plays – I love watching him play – he was always my idol when I was growing up.”

But when Rioli moved to Melbourne to chase his AFL dream and to attend Scotch College before being drafted by Hawthorn in 2007, it was a then current-day Hawthorn star that he soon admired.

Chance Bateman, the first Indigenous player to play 100 games for Hawthorn was in the prime of his career as a dashing midfielder with exceptional pace and skill.

He was, and still is a favourite amongst Hawthorn people and he was the man that Rioli looked up to when he began his career as a Hawk.

“I had a lot to do with Chance, I stayed with him for a month when I got drafted,” Rioli recalled.

“The way he went about things, he was just a champion and a very professional player and person.

“He’s left a big mark on the Club and I took a lot out of him being around here and the way he went about things.

“I know he still keeps in contact and involved with the Club – I’ve been on the Katherine trip (a Club community initiative) with him – he’s a great role model.”

Although Rioli won’t have the opportunity to play in the AFL’s Indigenous Round this weekend due to injury, he’s still excited by the celebration.

“It’s exciting to have Indigenous Round and to recognize the indigenous people,” he said.

“It’s great to see our culture being displayed and good to see everyone buying into it and celebrating it a lot.

“It’s a very good thing and I hope people take a lot of Indigenous Round.

“It gives people a taste of our culture and our heritage that we celebrate pretty heavily.”

While Rioli, 24, still has many years left to dazzle and inspire young kids everywhere in the AFL, he already knows what he wants to do post football.

And that’s to give back to the community in which he grew up and play football with his family.

“St Mary’s is my team back in Darwin – I’ve got a handful of cousins who have won a few Grand Finals with them,” he said.

“A definite goal of mine is to go back to Darwin and hopefully win a flag there.”