Vale Jim Stynes. A towering figure and a great, great man
People with no interest in sport don’t understand why sports fans use words like “hero” to describe their favourite sporting figures. They find such terms over-the-top, and best saved for those who make the wider world a better place.
Jim Stynes, the transplanted Irishman and AFL legend, did exactly that. He made the world a better place. Saving his perennially struggling Melbourne Demons made him worthy enough of the hero tag. The Demons, after all, were a much-loved institution facing ruin, and Stynes as chairman mapped out a survival pathway. But it was off field that he made his biggest impact.
Stynes’s Reach Foundation, which delivered programs to tens of thousands of young people annually, was the mark of a man who understood that support is more important than competitiveness for many young people. That a sense of acceptance is often more valuable than the pursuit of excellence. How wonderful that a man who was so excellent himself in so many facets of life should realise this.
The AFL has lured numerous Irishmen to our shores. A recent successful import was Tadhg Kennelly, who arrived at the Sydney Swans in the early 2000s and celebrated his 2005 grand final win with an Irish jig on the premiership podium.
Jim Stynes never won a premiership. But after debuting for the Demons in 1987, he won just about every individual honour in the game, including a Brownlow Medal and four club best-and-fairests. There was also the not trivial matter of an Order of Australia gong, the titles of Victorian of the Year, Melburnian of the Year and more.
He also forged an AFL record which is likely never to be broken, playing 244 straight games without a break for injury or other mishap. Don’t think his body was in perfect order for each of those 244 games. In every sense, he was a man of steel.
But it was the way he carried himself that stamped him as something truly special. Those who played with Stynes say he was more Australian than most Australians. He understood our laconic sense of humour and pulled off the rare balancing act of being both a knockabout bloke and a senior role model.
Throughout his career, Stynes cut an inspirational and dignified figure. Yet he was never more dignified than when he announced his cancer diagnosis in 2009. Open and honest about his prospects to the end, he gave numerous heart-rending insights into his cancer struggle – never complaining, never blaming.
Like Steve Jobs, Stynes only stepped away from his life work and passion when he was too sick to continue. One of the tragedies of his overnight passing is that he couldn’t hang on to watch the Dees go around against the Brisbane Lions this weekend at the MCG, a ground where he has a room named in his honour.
This weekend, the whole of Melbourne will be a shrine to Stynes. To be sure, to be sure, he is the game’s most famous Irishman, but his legacy is larger than that. Towering in physical stature at 199cm, Stynes is one of the towering contemporary figures of the AFL. He is as big as Barassi or Sheedy, and no less dinky-di.
Stynes was also a husband to Sam, and father to children Matisse and Tiernan, and it is to them that we extend our condolences and deepest sympathies this sad morning.
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