Former AFL footballer and chairman of the Melbourne Football Club Jim Stynes yesterday lost his ongoing battle with cancer. News of Stynes' passing was met with great sadness across the nation, but especially in Victoria, where his football and charity work will be remembered for a long time to come.
Stynes’ journey was a unique one. He became one of the first Irishmen to venture down under to try his hand at Australian football. He not only had success, he won the game’s highest honour, winning the Brownlow Medal in 1991 becoming the first and only foreign born player to win the award.
He was notorious for his toughness and played through a number of excruciatingly painful injuries. In 1993 he suffered a compound rib fracture but was able to convince his coach into allowing him to play the following week wearing just a chest guard. A year later Stynes tore a medial ligament in his knee but played through the painful injury.
Following his retirement in 1998, Stynes worked as an anti-racism officer within the AFL in order to combat the immense amount of racial abuse he and other non-white players encountered while playing. He also worked extensively on his youth organization, The Reach Foundation, and became a prominent youth worker in the state of Victoria.
He was awarded an Order of Australia, recognising his service to the community and was a three-time Victorian of the Year for his efforts with his foundation.
Stynes took on the position with the Melbourne Football Club in 2008 to help fight the financial trouble the team was facing and only stepped away from the position in February.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard shared her condolences but it was the words of Don McLardy of the Melbourne FC board whose words best reflected the Jim Stynes story.
"If there is a positive to be found from the last three years, it is that we have already had an opportunity to tell Jim in person what an impact he has made on our football club, and indeed our country," he 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.
"Jim was a normal bloke - sometimes grumpy, sometimes quirky but always able to laugh at himself. But what an extraordinary talent. To see Jim work with young, troubled teenagers was inspiring. He not only showed those young people a way forward, he trained many of them to be inspiring leaders themselves."
The Stynes family accepted an offer of a state funeral.