Friday 17 January 2020

From raw teenager to record-breaker, Dub became an Australian national treasure

Jim Stynes
Jim Stynes
Jim Stynes with his wife Sam and children Matisse and Tiernan

Edel O'Connell

A life too brief

JAMES PETER STYNES arrived in Australia in 1984 at the tender age of 18 on an insufferably hot day to try his hand at a foreign football code.

Seven years later, he had not only become the only international player to win the Australian Football League's highest individual honour -- the Brownlow medal -- but was also fast becoming one of the greatest stories in Australian football history.

His illustrious career began in 1975 when 10-year-old Stynes began playing for Ballyboden St Enda's GAA club in Dublin.

The footballer was one of five siblings born to Brian and Teresa Stynes and went to school at De la Salle in Churchtown where he excelled at rugby, Gaelic football and also competed with Pearce's running club.

Winner of an All-Ireland minor football medal with Dublin in 1984, Stynes was recruited by the legendary Ron Barassi of the Melbourne Demons and emigrated that same year.

He arrived in Australia as a raw teenager without any prior experience of the new code.

But he made his senior debut for Melbourne in 1987, going on to play in the following 13 matches -- including one where he famously committed a technical foul that cost his club the preliminary final that year.

He bounced back from that disappointment, however, and began a remarkable 244-game consecutive streak, not missing another match until 1998.

Early in his Aussie Rules career, he also completed a Bachelor of Education degree, while his growing stature was recognised in 1990 when he was named vice-captain of the Melbourne Demons.

The following year, in 1991, he became the only overseas player to win the Australian game's Player of the Year accolade, the renowned Brownlow medal.

In 1993, aged just 27, he started the not-for-profit Reach Foundation project to promote mental health and well-being among young people. It went on to become an international charity.

Taking the Melbourne Best and Fairest award for the second time, he released his autobiography 'Whatever It Takes' in 1995.

In 1997, he began his work with the Premier of Australia's Youth Suicide Task Force.

His record-breaking run of consecutive games for Melbourne came to an end a year later when he broke his hand. He announced his retirement at the end of the 1998 season after a total of 264 matches -- then the second highest tally in Melbourne's history. In 2007, he received the Medal of the Order of Australia from Queen Elizabeth for his work with youth and his contribution to Australian football.

A year later, he took over as president of Melbourne FC at the time when the club was €5m in debt and spearheaded a fundraising campaign, raising more than €2m at one function.

Sadly, in 2009 Stynes stunned his fans when he announced he had been diagnosed with cancer and would undergo treatment.

In 2010, his condition worsened considerably and he underwent six operations to have tumours removed from his brain. He continued to fight the disease bravely throughout 2011 however, announcing on one occasion he believed he was "done and dusted" but hoped for new treatments.

In February of this year, following a family holiday, Stynes resigned as president of the Melbourne club to concentrate on his family and his treatment.

He attended a club function on March 14, despite being seriously ill, and received a club blazer from football legend Ron Brazier.

He died on Monday night, aged 45.

Irish Independent

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