HomeFootballA team from Down Under playing in the Féile finals brings forth...

A team from Down Under playing in the Féile finals brings forth memories of AFL’s Dublin legend Jim Stynes

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They were managed by a Dub, Brian Briscoe, who holds the fondest memories of his Féile days.

No doubt, the boys from Down Under have heard all about Jim Stynes. His ashes are scattered high on the mountains above Rathfarnham.

He’d run there every Christmas on his visits home. A memorial stone in the stunning location honours his life.

A Melbourne Demons fan placed a scarf on the stone. It was in Melbourne where he turned the oval ball into jelly and ice cream.

Sometimes, you can find a treat in a charity shop.

And there it was the other day – Jim Stynes – My Journey.

Priced at €3. Hardly enough for a coffee these days. But it was a treasure, just the same.

On the front cover, there is a line from Brian O’Driscoll, describing Jim as “one of the great Irish sportsmen”.

It takes one to know one.

The book was first published in 2012. Its pages contain lessons that will last a lifetime.

Warwick Green wrote it. They first met when they were 18-year-olds in Melbourne. “We became great friends,” explained Warwick.

“One of my favourite memories is celebrating my 23rd birthday in Dublin. Staying with the Stynes family and travelling around Ireland with Jim, his brother, Brian, and their pals.”

When Jim was diagnosed with cancer, he asked Warwick to help turn the notes he had kept into a book.

“As was Jim’s way, he pushed and prodded to make sure the book was the best it could be. I feel blessed to have spent that time with him.”

In the book, Jim recalls his Dublin days. Growing up in Ballyroan Crescent in Rathfarnham.

“The area was full of young families. We’d spend our time playing soccer on the street.

“We’d play until our mothers called us in for dinner, or it was time for bed. We’d wander in and out of each other’s houses as if they were our own.”

Jim was the eldest of six children. His dad, Brian, was “a straight-talker, who didn’t suffer fools.

“Our mother, Teresa, was the most non-judgemental person I ever met.

“She had a sweet and tender nature. She saw the good in everyone. She’d listen with a sense of interest and wonderment to everyone’s story. We called her ‘Mother Teresa!”

Jim’s dad was one of nine children, whose father worked in a pub beside O’Connell Bridge.

The family lived above the pub on the third floor, overlooking the Liffey. The boys in one room, the girls in the other.

Jim’s grand-uncle, Joe, won the All-Ireland with the Dubs. They beat Kerry.

Twenty-nine extra trains were put on to bring the Kerry supporters to Croke Park. It was 1924. Dublin won by 1-5 to 1-3. Joe scored the last two points.

“Having a family member who played for Dublin in an All-Ireland final helped me with my self-belief. It inspired me to dream that maybe one day I could do that too,” recalled Jim.

Jim’s dad coached at Ballyboden St Enda’s. Jim played his first match for the under-11s when he was 9. He excelled for Ballyroan NS in the Cumann na mBunscol.

Then, in 1984, came the call to join the Dublin minor football squad.

On the weekend of the Leinster final with Westmeath, Jim’s parents were away. A big party was organised for the ‘free house’.

“Running onto Croke Park that day, I was physically and mentally drained. I produced one of the worst performances of my life. I had let myself down.”

Dublin won, but Jim was dropped for the All-Ireland semi-final against Derry. “I was devastated.”

He thought of his father’s advice. “He always said that the ability to respond to adversity is what separates the great footballers from the good footballers.

“I also said to myself that I’d never again put myself in a position where poor preparation affected my performance.

“Had I taken a negative attitude, my life might have taken a completely different path.”

In the build-up to the All-Ireland semi-final, one of the Dublin players got injured. Ten minutes before the start, Jim heard the words: “You’re in.”

He was determined to make the most of his chance. He played the game of his life.

The Dubs went on to beat Tipperary in the All-Ireland final. Paul Clarke was the captain. The mentors were Alan Larkin, Brother Tommy McDonald, Davy Griffin and Bill Ronayne. Christy Sweets was the kitman.

Shortly after, Melbourne Demons held trials in Dublin. “You are not going to any trials,” announced Jim’s dad.

Jim kept pleading and pleading.

“Alright then,” his father eventually relented. “But make sure you don’t get picked!”

Jim was picked! He found a pay phone and eventually got the courage to phone home.

His dad answered. “You are not going to Australia. And that’s the end of it.”

Two of the Melbourne representatives called to Ballyroan Crescent.

New York players celebrate a goal during the 2024 John West Féile Peile na nÓg Division One Finals at the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence in Bekan, Mayo. Photo: Ben McShane/Sportsfile

They outlined how Jim’s teaching training course would be paid for, as well as his board at a “nice, practising Catholic family.”

He’d get $60 a week, plus a lump sum of $500 for clothes and other expenses, and $50 for every game he played for the under-19s.

Jim couldn’t believe it. “At the time, I was getting a few bob a week doing a paper round!”

His mother whispered to his father: “He’s going, you know.”

“No way, woman. You have been brainwashed!”

The Melbourne people returned to the house, with the Dublin minor mentor, Brother Tommy McDonald.

Two weeks later, Jim was on the plane.

He’d go on to win the highest honour in the game – the Brownlow medal.

In 2009, he was diagnosed with cancer. “My ego just disappeared. My spirit had room to breathe again,” he explained.

“Your spirit, your nature has to be nurtured to discover the greatness within.

“It helps you to become all that you can be. Not all that everyone expects you to be.

“Reconnecting with my spirit helped me to look deep inside myself and grasp the important principles about life.

“I remember Mam saying that she’d pray that I’d beat the cancer and that I could help other people get through it.

“But regardless of whether I’d beat it or not, I felt that I had an important message for anyone diagnosed with cancer or any serious illness.

“Hope has to be the starting point. It’s crucial that you live with hope.

“When you do that, you are more likely to find happiness and less likely to feel anxious. It will improve your chances of recovery.”

Jim’s thoughts often went back to growing up in Rathfarnham, and the love his parents instilled in him.

“They allowed me to see the importance of compassion and empathy. They taught me that you cannot compromise your integrity.”

In Australia, Jim was a founding member of the Reach Foundation, which helps young people to believe in themselves and make the most of their lives.

The Australasia kids that visited his homeland for the John West Féile all felt inspired by the life of this great man.

Jim Stynes – forever a champion.

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