Ireland lost one of its true sporting greats overnight with the news that Jim Stynes finally succumbed to his long battle with cancer at the age of 45. Stynes left Ireland at the age of 18 to pursue a career in Aussie Rules and went on to become one of the most storied players in the game’s history.
Stynes is guaranteed inclusion in the ‘Ireland’s greatest sportsperson’ debate and his activities away from the pitch showed him to be more than an incredible athlete – quite simply an incredible and inspirational person.
Unfortunately, his playing days largely pre-dated the period in the internet’s history when events on the other side of the world could be so easily uploaded and shown to the wider world. Despite this lack of video upload opportunities and the comparative scarcity of news sources, stories of his remarkable exploits still filtered through on a regular basis. In a sport as physically demanding and attritional as Aussie Rules, he managed a scarcely credible 244 consecutive appearances between 1987 and 1998. In 1991. he was awarded the Brownlow Medal for being the ‘best and fairest’ player in the Australian Football League, becoming the first foreign player to claim the accolade.
When he eventually did hang up his Aussie Rules shorts, he channelled his immense energies into his charity, most notably the Reach Foundation – an organisation he set up during his playing days. His work continued through his illness and in 2011, he won the Victorian of the Year accolade for the third time, adding to his victories of 2001 and 2003.
In 2009 he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and bore the illness with typical courage and dignity. He underwent countless operations in a bid to improve his condition all the while continuing with his charity work and duties as chairman of the Melbourne Demons.
His passing sparked a flood of tributes. Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard said on Twitter “Jim Stynes will be remembered as a brilliant footballer and a man of great courage. My thoughts are with the Stynes family today.”
Seven time Tour De France winner and cancer survivor, Lance Armstrong tweeted “RIP Jim Stynes. We’ll miss you mate.” Legendary Australian cricketer, Shane Warne used the social media platform to say “Very sad news with the confirmation that Jim Stynes has passed away. Condolences to all the Stynes family & friends, he was an inspiring man.”
Closer to home, Ireland rugby legend, Brian O’Driscoll captured the mood succinctly, tweeting “RIP Jim Stynes. One of the great Irish sportsmen #sadday“.
If you do no other YouTube-based activity today, make sure you check out this video which gives some a tiny semblance of the man’s athletic ability, determination, courage, and humanity.