Melbournefc.com.au editor Matt Burgan takes a look at the life and times of the great Jim Stynes
The early years
JAMES (Jim) Peter Stynes is born April 23, 1966 in Dublin, Ireland. He is the son of Brian and Teresa. Stynes is one of six children, along with Sharon, Brian, Terri-Ann, David and Dearbhla. Stynes attends Ballyroan Boys School and as an eight-year-old has his first taste of competition football. As a nine-year-old, he starts playing Gaelic football with his local club Ballyboden St Endas in the under 11s. In 1979, he starts secondary school, attending De La Salle in Churchtown, a school which favours rugby union to Gaelic football. He plays rugby for his school, Gaelic football for his club and runs with Pearces running club. As he nears the end of secondary school, Stynes’ studies and football flourish. He represents Dublin underage-teams with success, before his football world and life takes a remarkable journey …
1984: Stynes answers an advertisement in a local paper from Melbourne Football Club seeking talented Gaelic footballers taller than 183cm as possible recruits. He had played in Dublin’s victorious All-Ireland Minor Football Championship (the premier under-18 competition in Ireland) that year. Coach Ron Barassi, chairman of selectors Barry Richardson and general manager Dick Seddon are key players in bringing Stynes and another Irish youngster James Fahey to Australia. Rupert Murdoch and his organisation News Limited are key backers in the plan. Stynes’ only other encounter with Australian Football is through watching the film ‘The Club’ on television. Stynes moves to Australia on November 7, as an 18-year-old, after being recruited via - what is later known as - the ‘Irish Experiment’. Melbourne had previously recruited Paul Earley and Sean Wight from Ireland via this program. He plays his first practice match in the summer of 1984 at Woodend.
1985: He makes his debut in Melbourne’s under 19s team. Stynes is coached by Ray ‘Slug’ Jordon. He finishes runner-up in the under 19s’ best and fairest.
1986: Stynes is sent to VFA club Prahran to compete at senior level. Coach John Northey describes Stynes as a “loan” to Prahran. Stynes takes some time to adapt, given his rawness, but he soon shows outstanding endurance and great potential as a ruckman. He plays 12 matches for Prahran and finishes runner-up in the best and fairest. Stynes is named Prahran’s best finals player.
1987: Makes his VFL/AFL debut as a 20-year-old, wearing No.37 for Melbourne in round three against Geelong at Kardinia Park. He is dropped the following week, but returns in round nine. During this period, Stynes plays in Melbourne’s night premiership win over Essendon - its first night flag since 1971 (back then the night series was played during the home-and-away season). By round 16, he has five matches to his name. From round 18 and following Peter Moore’s mid-season retirement, Stynes remains in the Melbourne team - remarkably until his 244-game consecutive streak ends in 1998. Upon his return in round 18 against Brisbane Bears, Stynes kicks an equal career-best four goals. He then plays in Melbourne’s first finals series since 1964. Stynes is a part of the club’s elimination final win - and one of Melbourne’s best - against North Melbourne, and the semi-final victory over the Sydney Swans. He plays in Melbourne’s heartbreaking preliminary final loss to Hawthorn. Moments before the final siren, Stynes runs across the mark and gives away a 15-metre penalty, which results in a free kick to Hawthorn’s Gary Buckenara. He kicks the winning goal after the siren, giving Hawthorn a two-point win and a grand final berth. It ends Melbourne’s dream season. Post-match, a photograph of coach John Northey yelling at Stynes becomes folklore. Stynes then represents Australia against Ireland in the International Rules series. At the end of the season, he is on holidays in Europe when he meets a person on a train. He greets Stynes with: “You’re the guy who ran over the mark in that finals match aren’t you?” Stynes later says in his autobiography, “There was no running, no hiding from the mistake I had made against Hawthorn.” He also receives the reserves best and fairest.
1988: Melbourne reaches its first grand final since 1964. But the day ends terribly, as the Demons lose to Hawthorn by a then record 96-point margin. Stynes, now wearing No.11, is regarded Melbourne’s best player. He is also one of Melbourne’s finest in its thrilling elimination final win over West Coast. Stynes represents Victoria for the first time in State of Origin football against Western Australia. It is the first of 10 appearances in the Big V. Stynes also earns his bachelor of education degree.
1989: Stynes plays in Melbourne’s second night/pre-season premiership in two years. Melbourne defeats Geelong in the second pre-season competition. Stynes is regarded as Melbourne’s best player in its elimination final win over Collingwood. But the red and blue’s season ends the following week with a semi-final loss to Geelong. Stynes also plays for Victoria against Western Australia earlier in the season.
1990: Stynes is named Melbourne’s deputy vice-captain. Melbourne defeats Hawthorn in a thrilling elimination final. Stynes is one of his side’s best. But the Demons are knocked out of the finals the following week against West Coast. He finishes third in Melbourne’s best and fairest award. Stynes represents Victoria against New South Wales, and plays for Ireland against Australia in the International Rules series.
1991: Named Melbourne vice-captain, Stynes has a fabulous season, winning the Brownlow Medal - the first and only player outside of Australia to win the highest individual honour in VFL/AFL history. He enters the count as red-hot favourite and polls 25 votes to defeat West Coast Eagle - and future Demon teammate - Craig Turley by five votes. Yet, he is almost dropped after the opening round of the season - following Melbourne’s dismal loss to West Coast. He pleads to the match committee as to why he shouldn’t be dropped. Stynes proceeds to shine against Fitzroy. Match committee member Shane Zantuck later says Stynes gained a reprieve after he had not “cracked the shits”. He finishes the season with 614 disposals - a career best. This includes a personal best 35 disposals against St Kilda in round 18. Stynes also wins every other major football award. This includes the first of four Keith ‘Bluey’ Truscott Memorial trophies (Melbourne’s club best and fairest award). He also wins the AFL Players’ Association Most Valuable Player (now known as the Leigh Matthews Trophy) and the AFL Media Association Most Valuable Player. The ruckman is also named All-Australian for the first time. Stynes is surpassed by only an eight-goal haul by Allen Jakovich as Melbourne’s best player in its elimination final win over Essendon. He is Melbourne’s best in its semi-final loss to West Coast. Earlier in the season, Stynes is vice-captain of Victoria in State of Origin against Queensland.
1992: Again named vice-captain, Stynes’ younger brother Brian makes his debut for Melbourne in round 10. The pair plays together again in round 11 against Carlton, which is Brian’s only other match for the Demons. Stynes plays for Victoria against South Australia.
1993: Stynes’ record-breaking run almost ends when he seriously injures his ribs. It occurs after a collision with teammate David Neitz against North Melbourne in round four. Despite suffering a compound rib fracture and being ruled out for six weeks, he remarkably plays in round five against Adelaide - Melbourne’s first win of the season. But he endures a rigorous fitness test with Rod Grinter, Martin Pike and Greg Doyle crashing into Stynes at a 20 minute training session. Although Stynes is in pain, he plays on and continues his remarkable streak. He is also regarded as one of Victoria’s best in the State of Origin carnival against NSW/ACT and South Australia. Stynes is vice-captain again, and is named All-Australian for the second time.
1994: Stynes suffers a medial ligament tear against Carlton in round 12, but incredibly plays on for the rest of the season. Coach Neil Balme later says, “He probably slipped one past us.” Stynes represents Victoria against South Australia in State of Origin again. He is Melbourne vice-captain for the fourth season. He plays in Melbourne’s finals series, with wins against Carlton and Footscray, before bowing out to eventual premier West Coast. Stynes starts up ‘Reach For The Stars’ with film director Paul Currie. The organisation, later known as ‘Reach’, becomes a successful not for profit organisation, which supports young people. For almost two decades, Reach makes a positive impact on more than 500,000 young Australians through schools, workshops, weekends away and large-scale events. Reach also runs programs for teachers and youth professionals.
1995: Stynes wins his second Keith ‘Bluey’ Truscott Memorial Trophy and the first of three in succession. He releases his book “Whatever It Takes”. Stynes represents Victoria against South Australia - his 10th State of Origin appearance. This match is significant, as it pays tribute to E.J. Whitten.
1996: Stynes breaks Richmond’s Jack Titus’ record of 202 consecutive VFL/AFL matches. He achieves it in round nine against Essendon. Stynes plays in the ‘merger match’ against Hawthorn in round 22. The Hawks win by the narrowest of margins. He wins his third club best and fairest award and his second in two years. Stynes receives the White Flame Award - Save the Children Foundation.
1997: He wins his fourth Keith ‘Bluey’ Truscott Memorial Trophy Award - and his third in a row. Stynes equals Allan La Fontaine’s club record of four best and fairest awards. Stynes works on the Victorian Premier’s Youth Suicide Task Force.
1998: Stynes’ remarkable consecutive game streak comes to an end. The big man breaks his hand against Carlton. He plays 244 matches in succession from round 18, 1987 to round four, 1998. Stynes reaches another milestone when he plays his 250th AFL match against Collingwood in round eight. His stellar playing career comes to an end, when he announces his retirement at the club’s best and fairest in October. He says at the dinner, “Failure is never final. It’s not what life does to you, but what you do to life that counts.” The 32 year-old finishes with 264 matches, then second to only Robert Flower in Melbourne’s history. Today, he sits fourth behind David Neitz (306 matches), Flower (272) and Adem Yze (271). His last match for Melbourne is the preliminary final loss to North Melbourne. Named in his honour, the Jim Stynes Medal is first awarded to Stephen Silvagni for Australia’s best player in the International Rules series against Ireland. Stynes ends his playing career with the Australian side in this series. In total, he plays eight International Rules matches (five for Australia and three for Ireland).
1999: After announcing his retirement in October 1998, Stynes completes a lap of honour before Melbourne’s opening match of the season against Richmond at the MCG. He is also chaired from the ground after Melbourne’s 17-point win. Stynes becomes assistant coach for the Australian International Rules team. Stynes is also appointed AFL racial and religious vilification officer.
2000: Stynes becomes an assistant coach under Neale Daniher. Stynes is named in Melbourne’s Team of the Century and receives the Australian Sports Medal. He is also awarded the Paul Harris Fellowship Medal for Rotary International.
2001: He continues as assistant/ruck coach for Melbourne. He is named Victorian of the Year.
2002: Stynes remains assistant/ruck coach for the Demons, but steps down at the season’s end.
2003: He is inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame. He is again named Victorian of the Year and is a Centenary Medal recipient. As part of his work with Reach, Stynes co-writes the children’s self-help book “Heroes”.
2004: Stynes becomes a member of the Federal Minister for Youth’s YACF committee. He earns Entrepreneur of the Year - Victoria and Tasmania (social non-profit category). Stynes becomes an opinion columnist for the Herald Sun.
2005: He becomes a member of the Federal Minister for Education’s NYCT Advisory Group. He continues writing a column for the Herald Sun.
2006: Stynes is inducted into Melbourne’s Hall of Fame. He co-writes another children’s self-help book - “Finding Heroes”. Stynes finishes up as assistant coach of the Australian International Rules series, after eight consecutive series.
2007: Stynes receives the Medal of the Order of Australia by the Queen for his work with youth and contribution to Australian Football.
2008: On June 12, Stynes takes over from Paul Gardner as Melbourne president. The Melbourne great heads up a new-look board. Stynes takes over at a time when the club is $5 million in debt. He begins rebuilding the club, gathering an experienced and enthusiastic team, from the boardroom to the football department. Stynes and the board soon end Paul McNamee’s tenure as chief executive. McNamee lasts four months in his position. He was appointed before the new board took over. Stynes quickly makes an impact as president, when he oversees the remarkably successful ‘Debt Demolition’ campaign on August 5. The function raises more than $2 million. Stynes and the Melbourne board then oversee the return of Cameron Schwab as chief executive.
2009: On April 1, Stynes play a key part in Melbourne’s realignment with the Melbourne Cricket Club. On June 2, 2009, Stynes’ board announces a 30-year deal with the City of Casey. The deal is highlighted by a training base at Casey Fields and a community partnership with the City of Casey. However, on July 2, Stynes holds a media conference to announce that he has cancer. A lump in his back was cancerous and tests revealed it had spread to other parts of his body, including his brain. He says he will take a break to seek treatment, but that he is not stepping down from his role as Melbourne president. “I need to put all my energies into getting my body right and to heal,” Stynes says. “I'm not stepping down from Melbourne but I will be taking a break - I will have to take the rest of the season off.” AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou says, “Jim is one of the most respected people in football and across the community and the best wishes of the AFL and all football supporters go out to him, his wife Sam and his family at this time.”
2010: On April 4, it is revealed that Stynes’ condition has worsened. Three days later, he has surgery to remove tumours from his brain. In June, the club moves into AAMI Park after more than 25 years at Junction Oval. The new MOPT facility is regarded as elite as any facility in the AFL. On August 5, Stynes oversees a major achievement by the club when it wipes out its $5 million debt via its third ‘Debt Demolition’ campaign at AAMI Park. On August 28, he is named Melburnian of the Year. After wooden spoons in 2008-09, Melbourne finishes 12th and shows positive improvement. Stynes’ board launches the new Melbourne emblem, which officially takes place on November 1 and for the 2011 season.
2011: Melbourne endures a frustrating season. The Demons finish 13th and Dean Bailey’s tenure as coach ends after the club suffers a humiliating 186-point loss to Geelong. The pressures of football, combined with Stynes’ health issues, result in former teammate and close friend Garry Lyon helping out as Melbourne’s football director. A revamped football department results in Melbourne appointing Mark Neeld as coach. On November 2, Stynes later tells 3AW, “It looks like we have a coach now that is really serious and he is not going to relax. He is not going to sit back and let it all happen. He is going to create it - it's good.” He then becomes the first person in Australia to trial a drug which could give hope to thousands of cancer patients. The drug is called Ipilmumab, a new immune-stimulation treatment. Also on 3AW, Stynes speaks about his health situation. He says, “I wouldn't be the person I am today unless I had this experience, so I've had to wake up. I've been able to let go. We're not here to just chase the dollar, because ego just drives most people's lives. It's about letting go of that ego and seeing where then life will take you, because you've got to listen and most people are too busy to listen.” Stynes also launches his own brand of muesli, called ‘Jimbo’. On December 5, Stynes gives new recruit Mitch Clark the No.11 guernsey. Clark says it’s an “honour” to wear the number. On the same day, Stynes also reveals that he thought he was “done and dusted”, as he continues to fight cancer. “They’ve (the doctors) decided that there is something else we can do. I’m going to go in and have another brain operation and hopefully that’ll give me a bit more time,” he says at the time. On December 13, Stynes is named the Herald Sun’s Victorian of the Year.
2012: After spending most of January holidaying with his family in South America, Stynes announces he is stepping down as Melbourne president on February 1. His contribution is enormous in the club’s history. Stynes keeps on fighting, but his focus shifts to family and friends. He attends Melbourne’s commencement dinner on March 14, receiving a club blazer, which is reintroduced. Again, he finds remarkable strength to attend this evening. On March 20, at 8.20am, Stynes’ remarkable fight comes to an end. His wife Sam Stynes issues a statement on his Facebook saying: “Jim was painfree, dignified and peaceful”.