Former AFL star, 32, farewelled at Mildura funeral
IT WAS a fiery round-nine showdown against the reigning premiers Hawthorn in 2009 when Colin Sylvia put his mark on the game.
Four freakish goals, 37 possessions, three Brownlow votes and the adoration from Melbourne fans who, in this blonde-haired, blue-eyed bloke from Merbein, found themselves a cult hero.
Speaking to hundreds of people gathered for Sylvia's funeral on Friday, former teammate Brent Moloney said that was the moment he too realised his mate was a star.
"I remember how the crowd would rise when he launched his attack on the footy, burst from a pack and kick a goal from 60m," Moloney said.
"He could turn a game on its head in 10 minutes."
And he did, of course.
Sylvia became a trailblazer for the Dees and ultimately a midfield target for opponents wary of his ability to tear them down on hallowed turf.
"He was the most talented player I had ever come across," Moloney said.
"He could do anything on the field - run, jump, sprint - you name it, Col could do it."
Sylvia died last week after a car accident in Mildura. It would have been his 33rd birthday on Thursday.
But for all the accolades, family members who spoke at his farewell weren't about to sugar coat it.
Sylvia was no angel, they said. But who really is?
His exploits off the field during his 163-game career landed him in trouble with authorities but things were looking up after he called time and headed home.
If Sylvia had found purpose on the footy field, his family were adamant he'd stumbled on to a sense of peace coming back to where it all began.
After 12 years focusing on himself, he was making up for lost time with his family.
Past and present AFL stars including David Neitz and Nathan Jones were among mourners at the service, which showcased the rise of the young star who emerged from the ranks at Merbein Football Club.
In a statement, former player and coach Mark McCarthy recalled his surprise at spotting Sylvia ripping up the footy field in the under 11s.
He was ushered into the senior squad by the time he was 14, quickly becoming a linchpin in the club's success.
But it was, to some, his actions following the squad's first premiership win in more than 20 years that exemplified his core values.
As the Magpies' grand final celebrations stretched into the night, Sylvia retreated to the stomping ground of the rival team so he could console a mate he'd played against.
"It summed up the character of the lad," McCarthy said.
Family members said Sylvia's passion for the game was closely matched by his love for music and impromptu dancing.
In recent months he had wowed his partner Mindy with a surprise trip to Halls Gap.
Mum Lynne recalled an infant who had emerged feet first and had been full-on from the beginning.
Long-time mate Mark Duscher recalled their exploits as teenagers and how, determined not to miss a boys' trip to Adelaide, Sylvia once scrawled a note for his mother alerting her to his whereabouts - and a plea for cash in his account.
Sister Kasey Sylvia admitted being quietly chuffed with the fame as her brother's career flourished.
"I was known as Colin Sylvia's little sister," she said.
"I secretly loved it."
They didn't always get along, she said, but they had bonded over their shared love for her three children.
She could still see her brother reflected in them, especially her eldest, Oscar.
"With his piercing blue eyes and temper to match, people are always commenting," she said. "Now I hope he is with us through him forever."