By: Daniel Cencic
The Boronia Football Club commemorates Riley Round across the juniors and seniors in Round 1, in honour of 12-year-old Riley Macnee, who passed away in January after a long battle with cancer.
A Hawk through and through after first taking the field in the under-9s, Riley fought the toughest of fights and leaves an undeniable legacy at Tormore Reserve.
Battling cancer from three and a half years of age, Riley’s mother Erin Macnee and the family watched him live his passion for sport despite living through sheer adversity.
“That was his passion, if he could get out there and play his sport and he could forget about everything else that was going on,” Erin said.
All junior Hawks players, coaches and staff wore black armbands and met in a circle for a minute silence before the first bounce of the season last Sunday in memory of their dear mate who last played footy in under-11s.
“It was very emotional,” Erin said.
“In a way, it was hard to watch but we knew all those boys out there were going through the same thing as we are too – at his wake they asked us to keep coming to their games.
“He’s got a lot of friends out there (and) the club has stuck by us the whole time – it’s been pretty special.”
Boronia Junior Football Club president, and close friend of the Macnee family Ellisa Schmidtke, says Riley was a keen cricketer, avid Hawthorn supporter and a courageous and determined footballer.
“(The day) was very much about honouring Riley as a person and as a Boronia Hawks player,” Schmidtke said.
“He just loved sport so much, and loved his Hawks and the Boronia Football Club.”
“He’d been part of us since under-9s.
“He was a good kid and played football the way every child should – with courage and determination – it was all about his love of football.”
Pre-seasons in football are considered hard yakka, but nothing can compare to the harrowing experience of the Hawks community and the Macnee family.
The devastating loss of young life to such an insidious disease serves as a stark reminder of what is important in life.
While many sports fanatics will their team to victory as a matter of life or death, the courageous fight fought by Riley puts wins and losses in the sporting arena into perspective.
Erin says for her and husband Glen, losing a child is an experience no parent can imagine going through.
“It’s really tough,” Erin said.
“Sometimes just those little things around remind you every day. Even watching people play sport or turning the TV on and watching it, those are all reminders for us.
“It’s something that you can never imagine going through.”
“It’s a bit of a reality check that no-one’s really immune to cancer – it can just hit so close to home,” Schmidtke said.
“It’s very difficult as a parent to think – I couldn’t imagine what those parents are going through.
“I physically couldn’t imagine the loss and seeing their son deteriorate and know that there’s an end.
“That just rips me apart, knowing that they had to watch that happen.
“It is just a game, and there are lots more important things in the world than football (and) for a 12-year-old boy to be struck down like this is just tragic.”
Schmidtke has seen the impact and legacy Riley has left on his Hawks teammates, whom her son was great mates with and played football alongside.
“I think they’ve come together really well – pretty much 80% of the boys played with Riley throughout his time at Boronia Football Club,” she said.
“The boys are definitely stronger because of it, and they remember him all the time.”
“It’s been good for the kids to unite together as well.
“Even at the funeral, there was pretty much his whole football team there and his whole cricket team there to pay tribute to him because he was such an awesome kid.
“He was one of those boys that was such a caring soul, a giving soul and wouldn’t say a bad word about anyone – a really good kid from a fantastic family.”
The club has named an award after Riley – the Team Riley Award – where a player chosen from each respective Hawks team will be recognised for playing the game in the spirit in which Riley played.
“Each coach was given the job of awarding a player within their team that round in remembrance of Riley in the way he played the game,” Schmidtke said.
“That was something that we wanted to promote as well – those kids that play in the spirit that Riley played would possibly get the opportunity to win the award for that round.
“That goes across all junior and senior teams for that round in Boronia Football Club.”
Schmidtke is proud of the way the young Hawks approached the weekend, where football provided a much-needed outlet to the toughest of times at Tormore Reserve.
“It’s quite a physically demanding and sometimes aggressive sport, so it’s an opportunity where kids can vent their frustrations through physical activity,” she said.
While Riley is gone but certainly not forgotten, he will always be at the forefront of the Boronia Football Club minds, such is the brave Hawk’s undeniable legacy.
Erin Macnee will be forever grateful for the support of the local community.
“Just the continued support of the local community that is still ongoing, it’s huge for us,” she said.
“As hard as it is for us to see, it’s a reminder to us that people haven’t forgotten him.”