2 April 2012, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia
Big Jimmy would have loved this.
He thrived on a big crowd. If he was here, he'd have us all standing up, waving our hands above our heads, and singing, and turning to the person next to you giving them hugs and shoulder massages. It's the sort of weird stuff he did and it took us a long time to get our head around it.
He loved to take people outside their comfort zone, to get them to do things that they didn't think they were capable of, which is not surprising really when you strip it all back to the very start of his extraordinary journey.
How else is a young lad form Ireland arrive on the doorsteps of the Melbourne footy club, another world away in very sense of the word, if he wasn't prepared to step out of his own comfort zone?
It was to be a consistent theme throughout his time here. That he would struggle initially was inevitable. That he would eventually fail was likely. That he eventually debuted as a Melbourne Footy Club player in 1987 was admirable. That he was the best and most dominant Australian Rules footballer in the country four years later, was to begin to understand and appreciate the sort of athlete and person we were dealing with.
Consistency was a cornerstone of Jim's footy career. He was consistently our best preseason performer, defying logic as he powered up mountains, leaving us all in his wake. There's enough team mates of ours here to know that he was consistently our worst in season trainer, as he hobbled around the training track from Monday to Friday, attempting to overcome all manner of injuries from the previous game. He was a horrible trainer during the season.
And then he was consistently our best performer when it mattered most, as he wheeled himself from contest to contest, game after game, year after year. So I wanted Jim to be consistent today, and he would be disappointed if I didn't take the chance to have a laugh at his expense. It's what I enjoyed doing most with him. So here's some home truths.
If he wasn't tight with his money, he was very careful with it. You only had to look at the way he dressed to realise he didn't spend money on a wardrobe. I've never seen a man get more excited about a club issue of a pair of runners every year. Mainly to discard last year's and move into the new fashion.
Which is why recently he turned up at our blazer presentation night, only a ... You know where I'm going with this Sammy ... a week or two ago, and he was crook and his eyesight was failing him. And I realised how crook he was because the raffle tickets were being handed around. Jimmy wasn't a big raffle ticket buyer, he was a $5 man. And I saw him and Sam arguing, having a blue over the envelope, and there was 20s and 10s and 50s flying everywhere and I thought, "Shit, Jimmy's crook. He's going for a 50." And it wasn't until two days later I spoke with Sammy and she said no, even with his failing eyesight, she saw Sam put a 50 in, and he was diving in to try and get 45 out.
He wasn't opposed to stretching the boundaries in the pursuit of victory either, and at the risk of starting an international incident, and I know there's a strong Irish contingent here, I've got to get this story off my chest. Some of my favourite times with him were in the International Rules series where I was coaching and he was assistant. And they were tense times, and we were always in the back of my mind wondered whether he was a double agent or not. And we got to the game and Croke Park, 75-80,000 people there. Not sure who you were barracking for either Brian.
And I said to him, "Jim, get the walkie talkie sorted out. Make sure we've got two way down to the bench."
And he said, "Yeah okay, okay." So he's fiddling around with it, trying to get onto the right channel and all of a sudden he said, "Shut up, listen." And there was a cross reference and we logged into the Irish coach's box.
And I said, "Jim, you can't do that." And he said, "Shut up." So for the first five minutes, we listened to the coach of the Irish team make his moves, and we trumped them and we eventually went on and won the game, and I reckon the next day I heard or read somewhere they said the Australians were well prepared, they anticipated every move the Irish team made. Damn right they did, because Jimmy was listening to the coach all the way through.
So he was a bit deceptive. He didn't lose his temper much, but he did on that day. The game was really close and it got towards the end of the match, and we were a few points down and he was in charge of our whiteboard, with all the magnets and the men around it. And someone did something wrong and I smashed the table in frustration, stuff went flying everywhere but I kept watching the game. It was about 30 seconds to go and I said, "Jim, who's on number 20?" Nothing. So I was getting a bit agitated at this stage, so I said, "Jim, who's on number 20?" And there was still nothing. I said, "Jim, if you don't tell me-" and he cut me off and he said, "Well how to fook do I know? He's crawling round on the floor trying to pick the magnets up." They'd been flying everywhere. Fook's an Irish word for flaming, so we're okay with that.
That was about it. That was about it. It's all I got. The truth is finding fault in anything he did was a fruitless exercise. I sat down and wrote a list of words that best describe him as a footballer: consistent, reliable, dependable, trustworthy, honest, strong, durable, sincere, loyal, courageous, caring and resilient. They're wonderful qualities to possess in a footballer. They're even more significant qualities to possess as a man. And what I find most amazing of all, is that all the kids from around the world we could have attracted in the game when Melbourne took the audacious steps of looking beyond our shores in the albeit unlikely hope of unearthing a footballer, we found him. Jim Stynes. And as a result, we knew never to question the boundaries of what one man is capable of achieving on the playing field, but also to never question the ability of the same man to have an impact away from it. There's never been anyone like Jim Stynes and there never will be, which is why we loved him, and we miss him so much today.