The Greatest Irish Australian

Jim Stynes will be remembered as probably the greatest ever Irish Australian. The Dubliner lost his three year battle with cancer today at the age of 45. Despite his relative anonymity at home, Gentleman Jim as he’s affectionately known down under, is a household name in Australia and is a legend of Aussie Rules Football (AFL). The big ruckman broke all sorts of records on the field but will be equally remembered for his philanthropic work off it. He is the only overseas player to have won the coveted player of the year award (Brownlow medal) and still holds the record for most consecutive games played – 244. This remarkable record is unlikely to be broken in such a physically demanding game. Not missing a game from 1987 – 1998 Stynes played through torn ligaments and a fractured rib on separate occasions. He was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame in 2003.

But it is off the field that his legacy will most endure. Appalled at the level of racism he encountered in the game (towards him and especially to non white players) he became the game’s anti racism officer. He also set up the organisation “Reach” which helped provide support services for young people. In a statement from the Melbourne Demons president Don McLardy , he said, “hundreds of young kids openly say Jim Stynes 'changed my life'. Can there be a greater accolade than that?” Stynes was named Victorian of the Year in 2001, 2003 & 2011, and he was named by the Queen as a recipient of the Order of Australia in 2007. Kevin Sheedy, who coached Australia in the last international rules series, believes Jim Stynes is the greatest story in the history of the AFL, a view that is shared by many in the game. 

At a time of Irish exodus to Australia Stynes stands out as the shining example of a successful immigrant. He was part of a previous wave of emigration from Ireland during the tough economic times of the 1980s. Stynes played for Ballyboden St Endas and won an All Ireland Minor title with Dublin in 1984. That year he was picked up by the Melbourne Demons AFL club as part of the so called ‘Irish Experiement’ and made his debut for the under 19s a year later. Like most Irish players that have changed countries and codes, he didn’t excel immediately but learned the ropes and went on to play 264 games for his beloved Demons becoming a legend of the game. He then went on to become the chairman of the Melbourne Demons in 2008, until his battle with cancer forced him to step down a month ago.

Stynes will be given a state funeral by the Victorian government and was honoured at the opening of Federal parliament question time today. The Prime Minister Julia Gillard described Stynes, “as a great courageous Irishman.” The Opposition leader Tony Abbott said, “Jim Stynes was an Irishman who became one of the very great Australians.” Jim is survived by his wife Sam, son Tiernan and daughter Matisse.


Photo credit: The Jim Stynes Foundation