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by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago

Former Melbourne star Jim Stynes passed away several weeks ago after losing a long battle with cancer. His ashes were taken to Ireland and scattered in a favorite place by his family.

Little can be said about Stynes that hasn't been said already. His courage, his determination to succeed at a game he knew little about, his amazing record of 244 consecutive games, his Brownlow Medal, and the horrendous blunder which cost his team a Grand Final berth have all been well documented. A turning point in his career came after that Preliminary Final. While overseas, Stynes was asked if he was the one who ran over the mark (the protected area in front of the player who has caught the ball). Then and there, Stynes decided the incident could make or break him as a footballer. He took the former option, working as hard as he could to get past it and succeed. That determination was there from the outset. He came to Melbourne as a scrawny 18-year old Gaelic footballer and went on to become one of the Demons' best ruckmen of all time. It took time and plenty of hard work. The extent of his determination can be summed up by the following story. While training and playing with reserves team Prahran and working on his marking (catching), Stynes refused to stop until he took 50 consecutive marks without dropping one. Whether it was nine or 49, if he dropped the mark, the session would start all over again.

It was Stynes' success which encouraged Sydney's Tadhg Kennelly to travel to the other side of the world and take his chance. Kennelly said he probably would never have played Australian football if not for Stynes' success. Kennelly also said that Stynes not only helped the Irish players, but other international players such as Nic Naitanui. Kennelly often contacted Stynes for advice and admitted to being in awe of him after reading his 1996 book “Whatever It Takes”. Several years later, Jim began his "Reach For The Stars" program to help disadvantaged youth. He struggled at first to raise the money required but a wealthy benefactor put up $200,000 to help launch the program.

When Jim passed away, over 300 people turned up at a Reach center to pay tribute. One young man told how he met Jim as a teen and recounted how Jim showed more interest in him and listened to him better than his own father. Jim also made an appearance, to the surprise of all in attendance, at a recent Demons' function. His wife was pushing an empty wheelchair because Jim preferred to walk in rather than be pushed in the chair.

Seamus Moloughney, President of Melbourne’s Celtic Club, met Stynes in 1983 in Ireland and said the community was proud when Stynes headed overseas to play for Melbourne. He said Stynes work with the disadvantaged was "a legacy that will continue" and that Stynes was a proud Irishman. He noted that two young Irishmen traveled to Melbourne to learn about the Reach program and bring those ideas and philosophies back to Ireland to help their fellow countrymen.

Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce (IACC) President and Melbourne City Councillor Brian Shanahan said Stynes would be remembered for his inspiration and that he "epitomized that innate Irish ability to strive against adversity”. Stynes was awarded honorary membership to the IACC in 2001. There is even a song about him - "Dublin Jim" - written by author Catherine Arthur after his 1991 Brownlow Medal win.

Fellow Irish footy players paid their tributes on Twitter. Carlton's Zach Touhy tweeted, "Jim Stynes doesn’t just make me proud to be a part of this sport and country, [he] makes me, as he should make every Irish person, proud to be Irish". From former Carlton, now GWS Giant, forward Setanta Ó hAilpín (in Gaelic) came ”Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam Jim Stynes, my thoughts are with his family and friends". Sydney's Tommy Walsh sent “RIP Jim Stynes, an Irish and Australian legend!!” John Heslin, who recently left Richmond to return home, paid his respects, "... will always be remembered. Heard many great stories ..." and this email to the Irish Echo newspaper: "You made this Dubliner very proud".

Source: irishecho.com.au, daily telegraph.com.au, theage.com.au, SEN Radio

Article last changed on Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - 8:34 PM EDT


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