Being offline the last fortnight or so and not watching or reading any news, it’s amazing what you miss.
Still, as I threw my Herald Sun in the staffroom recycling bin on Tuesday, the front page caught my eye – a big image of Jim Stynes.
For our overseas readers or the non-AFL fans, I’ll speak more about just who he is in a moment. In short, a football legend. With a difference.
Knowing the back story of his battle with cancer and fearing for his health, I read the headline and first few words. His family was by his bedside late Monday night. I knew what that meant.
I then jumped on to The Age to see if there was anything further, and of course there was nothing but articles on the great man, for he had passed away.
It wouldn’t be right in this forum to simply ignore the life of this icon of a man. Part of the journey has been to find the balance with sport and celebrating a person such as Jim is entirely apt for these pages.
My words won’t be sufficient, though I will give it a try, as will others – Luke, who knew him personally through Reach, Craig, who writes about the game that Jim loved so much, and David, a lifelong supporter of the team Jim saved.
Thanks to you 3 for sharing. I’ll go first and let you guys have the final say.
We’ve lost a giant of a man.
Jim Stynes transcended race and regular human mortality on and off the sporting field.
He arrived from Ireland knowing very little about our version of football, though highly proficient in the Gaelic game. Demons legend Garry Lyon recalls laughing at this gangly teenager with hopeless skills.
Little did he (or we) know that his work ethic and unparalleled courage and determination would see him grow – literally, to 199cm and 99kg (6-6, 218 pounds) – and take the game’s highest prize – the Brownlow Medal. Add to this a 2 time All-Australian, Victorian representative, Australian and Irish representative in the International Rules series, a member of the Hall of Fame and Melbourne’s Team of the Century.
Yet it’s his courage that stands out. 244 consecutive games. There aren’t sufficient adjectives in the world to describe this. Try doing anything 244 times in a row! As a ruckman, one of the most rugged positions on the ground, he played through incredible injuries – compound rib fractures, medial ligament tears, broken hands – let alone any loss of form.
Post-career, his legend only grew. He became an anti-racism officer in the AFL, before focusing his attention to the Reach Foundation, making a difference in the lives of thousands of young people.
For this, he garnered an outstanding number of personal awards, from Victorian and Melbournian of the year, to an Order of Australia medal in 2007.
As a football fan, there is something comforting to know that there are genuinely good men in the footballing fraternity, contrary to the stories (mostly justified) of footballers behaving badly. There’s the James Hirds, the Paul Roos and the Tom Harleys, to name just 3, but Jim Stynes stands head and shoulders above them all. His character, his grace, his heart for children and those he loved, including his beloved Melbourne Football Club.
My time offline has been well spent, but I can guarantee you that when Easter Monday rolls around, I will be jumping on and devouring the tributes and reflections to Jim Stynes.
Be at peace, you wonderful man.
Luke Fenwick – knew Jim through the Reach Foundation
The internet & papers pay tribute to Jim Stynes using words such as courageous, giving, caring, mentor and leader. The words are endless in countless articles, descriptive & true but almost feel empty when trying to describe Jim.
My early memories of him would be much the same as most 30-something year old males in Melbourne. Football champion, never give-up attitude, indestructible hard man from the AFL.
My days from meeting Jim at Reach were vastly different, he is still all of what he was in his playing days but he was also a man that taught men and boys that crying, laughing & showing your loving nature were just as important in life. He taught girls and women that self-belief & respect should never be forgotten.
I am sure that at the moment of his passing, hearts are low for family, friends and those that have had the opportunity to spend time with Jim but those hearts will be high again when reflecting on what a wonderful man he was and what a remarkable legacy he has left behind in lives he has enriched.
He created a place where people could be the best they could be and feel safe and secure in who they are. He didn’t instil self-belief; he gave you the thoughts, focus and vision for you to do this for yourself. This is a talent that cannot be taught, a trait that comes from another place all together.
‘Courageous’ and ‘inspiration’ are words that can be used in this instance but they really do little justice in describing a man that has left the world a better place because of his time spent here.
I read a quote from Jim saying “I would like to be remembered as a very good father and as someone who made a difference in the lives of young people.”
He is this and so much more.
Craig O’Donoghue – football writer for the ‘West Australian’
Jim Stynes made things happen. He inspired people. He encouraged people. He made people believe. He loved people. And people loved him.
The outpouring of grief that followed his death on Tuesday was so genuine. People were desperate to re-pay a man who has had such a monumental impact on football and life.
Four best and fairests, a Brownlow Medal, 19 finals, part of Melbourne’s team of the century, two All-Australian jumpers and the AFL’s record for consecutive games played are remarkable on-field stats, particularly from a man who moved from Ireland to take up a sport he knew nothing about.
He never captained Melbourne, but the man who led the club the most during his playing career – Garry Lyon – constantly told people how Stynes inspired him.
Stynes saved his club. The Demons were falling apart and in massive debt but he took on the presidency, inspired people to believe in the future, encouraged the players, lifted the supporters, and raised money to keep his club afloat.
He did it while battling cancer and helping the youth of Victoria through his foundation – Reach.
He stayed positive when life was negative. Stynes could have looked internally and focused purely on himself. But he did what came naturally. He led by example both at Melbourne and at Reach and followed in the footsteps of his family of leaders.
Stynes led like few people before him. He is an AFL icon but his legacy involves more than a football field. He changed people’s lives.
David Ratten – lifelong Melbourne supporter
As I contemplate the passing of Jim Stynes, I am somewhat surprised by the extent of my own grief and amazed at the reaction of the broader Victorian and Australian community.
I am a Melbourne supporter and grew to admire Jim Stynes as a footballer. He was incredibly gifted as an athlete and his successful transition to a foreign football code is well documented. However it was his courage as a footballer and his ability to play when injured that inspired me the most. As a supporter you just knew that he was always giving everything he had while on the field.
I am good friends with the man who was Chaplain at Melbourne during the Jim Stynes playing era. I remember him telling me back then how impressed he was with this young Irish footballer. He was a man of integrity and conviction, even as a youngster. There was something that set him apart from the rest. History has proven this early assessment to be accurate.
Few would argue that it was life after football that has defined the greatness of the man.
For me, his outstanding qualities have been:
- Integrity – a man of his word and true to his convictions
- Compassion – a genuine care for his fellow human beings and a willingness to do something to help those in need
- Commitment to family and friends – a love for those closest to him and a willingness to express that love openly
- Optimism – a glass half full person in every situation of life
- Honesty – a willingness to face the challenges of life with openness and raw honesty
Finally, I admire the way Jim prepared himself and others for his death. This was not going to be a tragic loss of life. It was faced openly and honestly, with amazing grace and care for those around him. Perhaps of all the things we admire him for, this was Jim Stynes’ greatest moment and finest achievement.