Stynes' legacy to live on
Legendary AFL trailblazer will be remembered as much for heroics off the pitch as on it
TRIBUTES have poured on both sides of the equator for the late Jim Stynes after losing his highly public battle with cancer early this morning.
The former All-Ireland winning minor medalist with Dublin in 1984 went on to hatch a remarkably successful career Down Under with Melbourne Demons and, later, through his charity work the with Reach Foundation, attained legendary status in Australian public life.
"You almost have to go to Melbourne to realise the status Jim enjoyed over there," said GAA Director General, Páraic Duffy this morning. "The outpouring of grief we have seen over the last few hours is an indication of that but he was a remarkable man.
"His story is regarded as perhaps the greatest story in the history of the AFL. What he achieved as a player and what he achieved since he ended playing through the Reach Foundation and his involvement on a number of government task forces for suicide prevention . ..there was a presence about him. He was a man of vision.
"He made a huge contribution from his days in Ballyboden through to when he was a Dublin minor footballer and through his exploits in Aussie Rules."
On 2 July, 2009, Stynes held a media conference to inform the public that he had developed cancer and after a two-and-a-half year battle with the disease, passed away at 8.20am this morning Melbourne time in his adopted home surrounded by friends and family, including his wife, Sam, and children, Matisse and Tiernan.
Stynes represented the Melbourne Football Club in every official game for 11 years, a record of 244 between 1987 and '98, winning the prestigious Brownlow Medal in 1991 - the AFL's highest honour - becoming the first non-Australian-born player to do so.
Dublin players, Tomás Quinn and Eamon Fennell took to Twitter to express their sympathies for the passing of Stynes.
"Very sorry to hear of Jim Stynes' death," wrote Quinn, "a great Irish sportsman & by all accounts an even better person. Hope he's found peace."
Fennell added: "Just read about Jim Stynes, very sad to hear of his passing. A real legend & a credit to the GAA and the AFL," while Ireland rugby captain, Brian O'Driscoll christened him "one of the great Irish sportsmen".
In later years, he became President of Melbourne Demons, serving between June 2008 and February of last month when he stepped down to devote his energies to his ill-health and family.
On three occasions, he was three times named Victorian of the Year and in 2007 was honoured by Queen Elizabeth II with the Medal of the Order of Australia, becoming Melburnian of the Year in 2010, partly for his charitable work after the establishment of the Reach Foundation which supported Australia's troubled youth.
Tadhg Kennelly, considered Ireland's second most successive Irish export to the AFL after Stynes, insisted he was "indebted to" the man for his own sparkling stint Down Under which spanned almost a decade and included an AFL Premiership Medallion -- the one honour to elude Stynes in his distinguished career.
"The stuff he did on field was unbelievable and really, for myself, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Jimmy Stynes because he was the trailblazer, he was the one that set the tone for people with different backgrounds," Kennelly said.
"Not just for Irish players, but blokes with totally different backgrounds and upbringings to AFL, he was the one that set the scene ... and I'm indebted to the man because I wouldn't be standing here today."
"Jim's legacy is going to be enormous. On the field, Jim changed the game.
"He was a roaming ruckman, that wasn't around at the time, and obviously winning the Brownlow medal.
"What he has done off field speaks for itself. The Reach Foundation and the work that he's done for underprivileged kids is enormous. (Jim was) a real inspiring character and just a down-to-earth bloke that had so much time for so many people.
"Most footballers visit schools once a week, or once a month -- Jimmy set a school up."
Kennelly also insisted his passing would be as keenly felt in Ireland as it is in Australia, where he has been honoured with a state funeral set to take place next Wednesday, March 27th.
"You mention AFL in Ireland and straight away ... it's Jim Stynes," Kennelly said. "Jimmy was a very proud Irishman, and we're a small nation and we do celebrate our exports and people that are good ambassadors for the Irish community -- and Jimmy was very much that."