State funeral for football star Jim Stynes in Melbourne
IRISH-born Australian rules football star Jim Stynes, who lost his battle with cancer, will receive a state funeral in his adopted home country.
The 45-year-old died at his home in Melbourne last night surrounded by his family and friends, including wife Sam and children Matisse and Tiernan.
A former Dublin minor footballer, Stynes played 264 games with Melbourne and remains the only player recruited outside Australia to win the Brownlow Medal, awarded for the "fairest and best" player in the Australian Football League.
Warm tributes were paid to the sportsman in the Australian parliament in Canberra by prime minister Julia Gillard and leader of the opposition Tony Abbott.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who was a guest at the parliament with Ireland's ambassador to Australia, Noel White, said he was deeply saddened to learn of the death.
"Through his immense sporting achievements in the AFL and as a Brownlow Medallist, and subsequently through his work with young people with the Reach organisation, Jim touched the lives of many people," said Mr Shatter.
"The decision of the Australian authorities to honour Jim with a state funeral is an indication of the high esteem in which he was rightly held and a fitting tribute to a man who devoted his life to the wellbeing of others.
"His death is a great loss which will be deeply felt by his many friends and admirers in Ireland and in Australia, but most of all by his wife and family to whom I express my deepest condolences."
Mr Shatter is in Australia as part of the St Patrick's Day programme of events
Dublin-born Stynes, who left his Rathfarnham home in 1984 to pursue his dream of becoming an AFL star, was one of the greatest exponents of the Australian game.
He was diagnosed with cancer in July 2009 and had been hailed for the manner in which he fought his illness so publicly.
He underwent brain surgery six times and had more than 20 tumours removed over the last three years.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard paid tribute to him as “an absolute legend”.
“"He showed such bravery in the face of his devastating illness, he’s shown courage to the Australian people. He will be very sorely missed," Ms Gillard said.
‘‘He’s come into the hearts of Australians for so much more than his footballing career.’’
AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said Stynes had made a significant contribution to the game and the community.
He said the AFL planned to honour Stynes, possibly in conjunction with Stynes’ youth organisation Reach.
Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong tweeted: “RIP Jim Stynes. We’ll miss you mate.”
Cricketer Shane Warne also joined the many tributes saying:”Very sad news that Jim Stynes has passed away. Condolences to all the Stynes family and friends, he was an inspiring man.”
Stynes won an All-Ireland minor football medal with Dublin in 1984 but left for Melbourne soon afterwards.
He won the Brownlow Medal for player of the year in 1991, the first overseas footballer to do so. He was also an Order of Australia recipient and a Victorian and Melburnian of the year.
He died at home in St Kilda, Melbourne, surrounded by his family: his wife Sam and children Matisse (12) and Tiernan (7).
Ms Stynes released a statement last night thanking his legions of followers for their support and good wishes.
She said: “Jim was pain-free, dignified and peaceful. Matisse and Tiernan were present.
“Not surprisingly, in his last week of life Jim continued to defy the odds and lived his life to the fullest attending the Melbourne vs Hawthorn football match, his son Tiernan's 7th Birthday celebration, the MFC Blazer Ceremony and a casual Friday night dinner at Toplinos in his much loved suburb St Kilda.
“In his final days Jim was immersed with insurmountable love and tenderness surrounded by his family and some close friends in the comfort of his own home.
“On behalf of Jim my heartfelt thanks to all those who have so generously cared for, guided and supported Jim throughout his challenging cancer battle.
“The list of people to thank reaches far and wide but for now I would like to make special mention of those that went far and beyond the call of duty, Dr Grant Macarthur from The Peter McCallum Centre, Dr Grahame Southwick from the Australian Institute of Plastic Surgery, Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld from The Alfred Hospital, Dr Peter Sherwan from Freemasons Hospital and the team at Cabrini Palliative Home Care that combined with Jim’s fighting spirit resulted in Jim's extended three year life journey.
“It is an incredibly sad time, however Jim in his passing, has made us see that in our grief that we can smile in our hearts for a beautiful man who will forever hold a special place in the hearts of many.
Jim's lesson is that life was to be challenged and treasured.”
In a statement, Melbourne FC president Don McLardy said: ‘‘There are few places in Australia that have not heard or been touched by the legend of Jim Stynes - the affable Irishman who left his homeland to chase a dream, and succeeded beyond anyone's expectations.
‘‘In the next few weeks, you will hear from many who will tell you about his magnificent playing record, and why Kevin Sheedy says he is the greatest story in the history of the AFL.
‘‘You will also hear from many whose lives have been changed by Jim, mainly through contact with his incredible youth organisation Reach. Not just great achievers such as Jules Lund, Trisha Silvers and the like, but hundreds of young kids who openly say Jim Stynes 'changed my life'. Can there be a greater accolade than that?’’
McLardy said he spoke to Stynes for the last time on Friday and said he seemed calm.
"In the end he'd fought his fight and he was very peaceful at the end," McLardy told radio station 3AW.
"He'd had a tremendous battle."
McLardy said he was stunned to see the ailing champion at the Demons' commencement dinner last week, when the club had presented him with a blazer.
"It was a pretty massive shock because he was pretty ill. It was that iron will (that got him there)."
Melbourne Football Club held a press conference yesterday afternoon. Stynes stepped down from his role as president of the club last month.
Oncologist Grant McArthur from Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre described Stynes as a remarkable and inspiring man.
‘‘(He was) a very insightful, intelligent man,’’ he told radio station 3AW.
‘‘He knew about his illness and what the ultimate outcome was ultimately going to be. He didn’t want to give up.’’
Professor McArthur said Stynes went public with his battle with cancer to help others.
‘‘He was an inspiring guy. He gave hope to others.’’
Christy Cooney, president of the GAA, said Stynes was a hugely respected and admired figure.
He won an All-Ireland minor football medal with Dublin in 1984 and was on the first Ballyboden St Endas Juvenile team to win a championship - U16 football 1981 - before embarking on a long and hugely successful career in Australia.
He also had strong links with the International Rules games, assisting both Ireland and Australia in different series.
"You only have to take note of the massive outpouring that has accompanied his passing to fully understand the regard he was held in - on both sides of the world," said Mr Cooney.
"He fought his illness the way he played his football - with honesty, integrity and consistency - and, on its own, his successful transition from our game to AFL footie was a statement about the man.
"Needless to say, his influence spread far beyond the playing arena and his work in the areas of both charity and of course AFL administration, especially with the Melbourne Demons, are to be lauded.
"I offer the deepest sympathies of wider GAA community to his family circle and of course his many friends, and hope his memory and the very public way in which he battled with his illness serves as an inspiration to others."