Stynes and Melbourne coach Dean Bailey flanked McDonald at his retirement press conference on Thursday afternoon and both were full of praise for his 13-year career in the red and blue.
Stynes, whose playing career was drawing to a close as McDonald’s was in its infancy, spoke about one of his earliest impressions of a slightly-built shy youngster from Ballarat.
“He hadn’t played that many games and I got injured, broke my hand and finished my run of games. We were looking good in the last quarter against Carlton at Visy Park and this young skinny kid bobbed up when it all looked like we were gone and James put us in front and won the game for us,” Stynes said.
“I will always remember the way he went about it. He was a quiet achiever. He had a very strong resolve, he was one of the most courageous players I ever played with because he always put his head in the hole and I remember the coach at the time was a very wrap for him. Even though there wasn’t a lot of fanfare he just went about his business.”
Stynes revealed that McDonald came close to not making it on the Melbourne list at all but for some faith showed in him by Cameron Schwab in his first stint as Melbourne’s CEO.
“He was determined, despite having chronic fatigue syndrome early on. They weren’t going to take an extra rookie player but in the end they were convinced to take him. Cameron put in a big word and got him on there,” Stynes said.
“Who would have thought he’d go on to be one of only seven players to play 250 games? It’s a remarkable effort. He is probably the most respected player at the moment around this club. The young guys have had a lot to learn over the last couple of years from him.”
Bailey acknowledged that McDonald’s departure was largely a club decision, but said his legacy would remain with the youthful Demons’ list.
“To get to where we want to go, unfortunately these types of decisions are made,” Bailey said.
“I think that you’ll find in the years to come that most of the players will be mentioning James’ leadership role. They will benefit from James’ experience that he’s passed on to them. There is no shadow of a doubt about that - he’s been outstanding in the two and a half years I’ve been here.”