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WAFL Milestone | Matt Riggio 200 GamesSaturday, September 5, 2020 - 9:06 AM - by Chris Pike

ANDREW Krakouer gained the spotlight for topping off Swan Districts' stunning 2010 premiership team, but Matt Riggio was the unheralded other addition that year and it's remarkable the 10 years he has delivered since to now become a 200-game WAFL player.

Riggio began his WAFL career back with Peel Thunder and he made his league debut in 2005 before going on to be drafted to North Melbourne and played 10 AFL matches over the next three seasons.

He showed enough to suggest he could be a regular AFL player but the Kangaroos didn’t agree by the end of 2009 and that's when he had a decision to make about where to continue his football career.

He landed on Swan Districts and it's fascinating that it was largely on the back of the advice of the legendary David Parkin, but Riggio joined a Swans team for 2010 along with Krakouer that was primed for success.

They had added other star recruits in recent years like Wayde Twomey, Tim Geappen, Brett Robinson, Ryan Davis, Llane Spaanderman and Tom Roach to add to local stars Josh Roberts, Tallan Ames, Travis Casserly and Justin Simpson, and then young guns Stephen Coniglio, Michael Walters and Clancee Pearce.

So on the back of playing in the Grand Final of 2008 and preliminary final of 2009, Riggio joined Swans in 2010 and became a key player all season long before ending up playing in the premiership in the remarkable one-point Grand Final win against Claremont.

Even now as he approaches his 200th WAFL game this Saturday when Swans host Perth at Steel Blue Oval, it's something that is the first thing that comes to mind when he recalls his career.

"They were building by the time I got there because Swoop, Twoms and Robbo came in for 2008 and they made the Grand Final that year and then the prelim the next year so they were obviously building and creating that environment already," Riggio said.

"I was lucky enough to come in at the time when Kraks came as well to top them up and it was enough to get us through to the flag. To be there at that time and looking back now, it's one of the most special teams that I've seen in my time. 

"Obviously Subiaco have been more dominant the last five or six years, but that team was pretty special and it's not going to happen for me again I don’t think. I'll definitely cherish it forever and look back on it fondly."

While that 2010 premiership will always be a remarkable career highlight for Riggio, what he has been able to do since is incredible.

He has every right to lay claim to being the most consistently high performing player in the WAFL over the past decade and along the way he has been captain at Swan Districts, won two Swan Medals as the fairest and best and represented the WAFL State Team on another two occasions.

His consistency in not missing many games at all and in performing at a high standard virtually every time he steps onto the field has been remarkable, and as he reflects ahead of his 200th game, it is something he deservedly takes pride in.

"I'm pretty proud of having been able to stay at this level for so long. I'm not sure what it's actually been or what the factors have been to allow me to be at the level for that long though," Riggio said.

"Back in the day I was pretty serious about my preparation and obviously coming out of the AFL system it was pretty serious, but I did have one or two years where I probably wasn’t up to scratch.

"But my priorities kind of changed and I kind of fixed my life up, I found my wife and now have a good job, and that made me a lot more comfortable off the field. Then I was able to play consistently after that. 

"Obviously my body has held up which has been a massive factor too and if you can't play consistent games, you can't play consistent footy so I've been lucky enough that my body has held up. I am starting to feel a bit old these days but it hasn’t been too bad over the last 10 years so that's been a huge thing to keep me at this level."

While Riggio's football has remained remarkably consistent over his entire 200-game WAFL journey now, the way he prepares for games and enjoys life afterwards couldn’t be more different nowadays to what it was in those early days when he came to Swans.

He and Ryan Davis were famous for enjoying themselves but then also for being able to shake off anything to perform at training and on game day. 

But now as a married man and a veteran of almost 200 games at 32 years of age, life couldn’t be more different in so many ways for Riggio.

"I guess I am a very different person now to going back early in my time at the footy club when me and Davo were rolling around, and having a lot of fun," he said.

"It was an awesome time and I'll always obviously remember those times and our mentality was that if you could go and have a drink and have a good time but still perform and do everything that's expected of you in terms of training and that sort of stuff, then make the most of the fun you can have. 

"But then you get a bit older and you get a bit more mature and settle yourself down and that's not what you want to do every week anymore. That kind of mentality started shifting around the end of Davo's time at the club and when he left for Gold Coast. 

"My mentality isn’t to go and party every weekend now, it's a bit more about my wife and other things in my life. It's certainly different."

Riggio will run out for his 200th WAFL game on Saturday and then his 200th for Swan Districts in the final round of the 2020 season, and it's fair to suggest it's a milestone not too many players might achieve moving forward.

Seasons are now shorter, there are plenty of things pulling players away from having the lengthy careers like Riggio has had, but he is rightfully proud to now be about to become just the 20th player in the history of Swan Districts to reach 200 games.

He actually has a teammate who has passed the mark too with Tony Notte on 243, but it's going to become a harder feat to accomplish which makes him all the more proud to get there.

"I was just talking to a couple of the boys at training about how many games that actually is and how many seasons these days it would take to get there, and they were quite surprised when we added it up," Riggio said. 

"Obviously I've been in the WAFL for 11 seasons now and that's a long time and to be in that 200 club is quite special and I'm honoured to be there. I was going around the locker room and everyone that's played 200 has a little gold pin on their locker and I only counted 15 or 16 of them. 

"So to be in a club of less than 20 players that has done that at our footy club is special, and I'm pretty proud and honoured to be in that group now."

Going back to the end of 2009 when North Melbourne delisted him, Riggio recalls it was the recommendation of Carlton and Hawthorn AFL legend David Parkin, who had a stint west with Subiaco, who nominated Swan Districts as a good home for him.

"I was approached by a few clubs and I spoke with David Parkin because my mum knew him at the time so I spoke to him a couple of times while I was over in Melbourne about my footy," he said.

"And I talked about what a proud and successful club Swan Districts was and that wasn’t the only factor, but that did persuade me that if someone that high up in footy thinking the club was that successful and proud, then that did sway my decision a little bit. 

"To have then had that season in 2010 that we had, I'm forever grateful I came to the club and I'm so happy with that decision I made. It's obviously something that I will remember for the rest of my life."

It's only natural that the now 32-year-old is pondering his future at this point of his career but he isn’t sure about what 2021 holds just yet.

While the COVID-19 break helped some senior players feel fresher for 2020, Riggio doesn’t want to go that long just training without playing again but he has also started helping out coaching with the Swan Districts' WAFL Women's team who are about to start their finals campaign.

So has a few options to weigh up but he'll let the dust settle on this season first before making any decisions.

"Last year I thought at the start of the season it would be my last year but then halfway through I kind of realised that I didn’t want it to be and that was partly due to the fact that my body was continuing to hold up, and I felt pretty good going into the second half of the season," Riggio said.

"The next two games probably will be a big factor into whether I go again or not. At this stage, I can't really tell you but I am doing some coaching in the women's and I'm enjoying that and I have two or three options I could do next year. 

"I could play and coach, I could maybe just focus on coaching or I could just play. At the moment I'm kind of up in the air of what I'm going to do. 

"Obviously I would love to play again just because I love being at the club and playing footy, but I just have to weigh up if I want to do another pre-season especially if it's going to last for 10 months again. I'm not sure I could do that again but I'll probably make my mind up a couple of weeks after the season."

As for coaching in his future, it wasn’t something Riggio initially thought that would interest him but now as he's become a leader, captain and senior player, and has had a taste of coaching, he could see himself moving in that direction one day.

"I didn’t really think I would think about coaching a couple of years ago, but then as I got a bit older I am getting a bit slower and not keeping up with the young pups as much, and am using my mind a bit more," Riggio said.

"So I try to give a bit of feedback to the young guys while I can and then this coaching role came up in the women's team and I've enjoyed it. It might be something I look at more in the future now."