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Smith: I thrived on facing the best

Smith announces retirement - August 14, 2019 Premiership defender Nick Smith announces his retirement from football after 211 games for the Sydney Swans.
I’d watch some of the stuff Cyril Rioli would do and go, ‘I’m not sure if I can stop that’.
Nick Smith

Nick Smith admits he’d sometimes chuckle to himself when rolling the tape on Cyril Rioli vision.

But while the retiring Sydney Swans defender was often baffled as to how he’d stop the former gun Hawk, he says he always relished the challenge of facing the opposition’s best small forward.

Smith engaged in countless thrilling one-on-one battles with Rioli, Steve Johnson, Eddie Betts and a host of other superstar footballers in an acclaimed 211-game career, with Sydney coach John Longmire declaring “I can’t think of many times when Nick was beaten”.

So far had Smith come from the skin-and-bone 18-year-old midfielder thrown a rookie deal ahead of season 2007, and the departing stalwart says he thrived on clashing with the best.

“Playing on Cyril in a couple of grand finals was a scary proposition,” Smith said as he announced his retirement on Wednesday.

“Some of the other guys who were really good were Stephen Milne, Eddie Betts, ‘Stevie J’ (Steve Johnson), Luke Breust – there have been so many.

“Usually I went in with a plan and felt confident I could execute. I’d watch vision the week before, and I’d watch some of the stuff Cyril would do and go, ‘I’m not sure if I can stop that’.

“But I really enjoyed the match-ups I had with those guys over the time. I have a lot of respect for the guys I played against year in and year out. It wasn’t easy, but there’s that really healthy respect and I really enjoyed competing with them.”

Nick Smith and Cyril Rioli going toe to toe in the 2012 Grand Final.

Longmire watched on from the coaches’ box for every one of Smith’s 211 games.

He was an assistant coach under Paul Roos when Smith arrived at the Swans in November 2006, and he’d take the top job ahead of season 2011.

Longmire has vivid memories of Smith keeping Rioli goalless in Sydney’s 2012 Grand Final triumph over Hawthorn, and again in the 2014 decider that went the Hawks’ way.

When Heath Grundy brought to close a 256-match career in May, Longmire spoke of his delight at always being able to assign him – without hesitation – to the opposition’s most damaging key forward.

And he had just as much faith in Smith.

“As a coach to be able to sit there and put Nick’s magnet up every week for as long as we did against some of the best players in the competition – and there wasn’t ever a discussion or a debate,” Longmire said.

“He had that much trust in the coaching staff and the players that we’d put his name up and move on – and that can’t be underestimated. It also can’t be underestimated the mental strength Nick has shown in being able to do that every week, and how strong he’s been at doing that. He’s been absolutely incredible. I can’t think of many times when Nick was beaten over his 211 games, which is quite incredible when you think of some of the talent that he’s played on. We recruited him through the Rookie Draft as a very good midfielder, and he went back in typical selfless Nick Smith style and did the job for the team for the next 13 years – and we thank Nick for that.”