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Croke Park marks passing of our most successful sporting export

IF you're going to honour a legend in different sporting codes, then Croke Park is an appropriate venue to get the ball rolling.

When the city of Melbourne buries Jim Stynes with a full state funeral tomorrow, the service will attract thousands of mourners, sports fans and Australian citizens, each acknowledging the passing of an icon.

In a somewhat smaller way, Dublin marked his passing, too. There were about 30,000 people at Croke Park on Saturday for the Spring Series double header, with the Dublin hurling and football teams taking on Tipperary and Donegal respectively, but everyone knew who the minute's round of applause was for.

On the two large screens at either end of the stadium, an emotive montage of television and still images of the late Mr Stynes (45) melted in and out against the sound of U2's 'Magnificent'.

Among them were pictures of him training as a teenager and, later, wearing the Dublin minor jersey, along with shots of his glory days in the AFL and winning the Brownlow Medal (Player of the Year) in 1991.

Mr Stynes's death from cancer last Tuesday evoked a response in the GAA and AFL worlds that we're not used to -- his was a rare story of a man who had dominated both sports.

"Is it a state funeral he is getting in Australia? I had no idea he was so revered in Australia," said Eamon Gordon, arriving at Saturday's game with his son, Conor (7).

"It comes down to that he must have been a fantastic Australian Rules player; a credit to his sport and to his country," he added.

Legend

Mr Stynes travelled to Australia at the age of 18 in 1984 and became the most successful Irish sporting export the county had ever seen.

Mr Stynes's impact as a player who travelled to the other side of the world and became a legend was compelling to those who turned up to watch Dublin play at the weekend.

"He took a chance," said John O'Brien (28) from Tipperary town.

"He took a chance in life and it worked out for him."

Mr Stynes will be buried in Melbourne tomorrow. An Australian at Saturday's game put it like this: "It's going to be massive.

"He is not a legend, he is a saint. He was an amazing player but he was more than that because he was such an inspiration off the field. To get a state funeral is an enormous recognition."

Saturday was, coincidentally, an all-Dubs affair and along with the teams, the Dubliners roamed on to the pitch at the interval and banged out a few familiar tunes.

They were the last of this year's mid-match entertainment for the Spring Series games, which has featured Jedward and Limerick's Rubberbandits in recent weeks.

Irish Independent