22 March, 2012, Channel 9, Melbourne, Australia
Jimmy Stynes was a giant in every sense of the word right from the very first moment I laid eyes on him.
It would be wrong to suggest we were close from Day 1, he was a novelty and for a 16-year-old kid from country Victoria he fulfilled all of my pre-conceived notions of what an Irishman should be - pale, lean and with an accent that was perfect for telling Irish jokes.
Beyond that I didn’t give him too much thought, my mind was captivated by the real footballers at our club, most notably the legendary Melbourne footy club figure Robbie Flower. He was the man I aspire to be.
How did it come to pass then that 27 years down the track, with the greatest respect to Robbie, that the Irish curiosity that I first encountered in the carpark outside of the MCG was to become, and will remain, the person that I judge and measure myself by?
With time and age or some form and degree of maturity comes perspective and I realize that life is more than just football and I now see the irony in that I was to become the leader of the football club and help set a standard for others to follow, all the while it was Jim who was doing the real leading and setting the real standard.
I see that with such clarity now. I didn’t then and it led to doubts about Jimmy.
Why was he not fanatical and obsessed like I was? Why did it appear that football was just a game to him when it was much more to me? Why could he smile an hour after a losing game whereas it took me a whole weekend to get over it?
Why did he not embrace the so-called 'manly elements’ of our game as enthusiastically as the next bloke where drinking beer and attracting girls was a badge of honour, worn as proudly as anything achieved on the playing field? Why could he be as passionate about the welfare of others outside of the club when I was predominantly obsessed with what happened solely within?
Jimmy refused to let the game define who he was. It was just a part of him and it allowed us to marvel at his determination, unwavering self-belief, resilience, strength, skill, endurance and courage.
Why was he so prepared to buck the system and explore an alternative path when the rest of us were so aligned to the one that had trod so rigidly for decades? Why did he not shy away from displaying his emotions where I saw it as a weakness to do so?
Why was he so fervently proud of his Irish heritage when I had barely given mine a second thought? Why was he so sensitive to issues of racial and religious tolerance, ahead of his time, while I was ignorantly part of the problem?
I thought he had it all wrong. What I now know to be true is that those doubts were less about Jim and more about myself, and I say that not self-consciously but with some degree of pride because it means that I’ve truly come to appreciate the man that Jim Stynes was and if that paints me in a lesser light then I’m fine with that because there are few that can compare to him.
Quite simply Jimmy refused to let the game define who he was. It was just a part of him and it allowed us to marvel at his determination, unwavering self-belief, resilience, strength, skill, endurance and courage. But he never let the game compromise what else he had going on in his life.
He showed me that you could be committed but not obsessive, the need to separate the playing field from the field of life, that you can gain satisfaction out of the contest regardless of the result, that you could enjoy the environment and male bonding that footy provided but always maintain a sensitivity to what is right and wrong, that you never get so tunnel visioned that you don’t recognise the needs of others, that you can be both passionate and ruthless in the pursuit of excellence.
He was secure enough to know that displaying vulnerability can be a strength and not a weakness.
So now he’s left us and it doesn’t feel right or fair in any way. I was honoured to have been able to spend some intimate time with him in the past few months and I’ll never forget those moments. We laughed more than we cried which as I’ve written about was consistent throughout our relationship.
I took a photo on one of the last occasions I sat with him and had the chance to say goodbye. It was deeply personal and highly symbolic of our 27-year friendship and it will serve as a constant reminder of him, what he stood for and how profound an impact he had on me, of just how right he got his 45 years.
The photo will sit on my wall at home and every time I look at it, I will think of the man that he was and the one I can only ever hope to be.
I love you Jim.