The Melbourne Football Club song begins:

It’s a grand old flag, it’s a high flying flag, 
It’s the emblem for me and for you, 
It’s the emblem of the team we love, 
The team of the Red and the Blue. 

Today that flag, that emblem, is very much at half-mast. Today all Melbourne supporters, Australian Football League followers, the sporting world and people right across Australia and Ireland are mourning the passing of Jim Stynes. It is not often a footballer has condolence motions delivered in the Australian parliament, with the Prime Minister making the first of the tributes. Jim Stynes was, however, more than just a regular footy player—much, much more. It is not often our society is blessed to have in its presence and then be robbed by the taking away of someone of the calibre of Jim Stynes. 

At 45 years of age Jim Stynes has gone far too soon, yet not without leaving a huge footprint on his adopted land. Dublin born Jim Stynes was one of Australia's best-known and most loved sporting figures. He was a youth worker, a businessman, a three-time Victorian of the Year recipient in 2001, 2003 and 2011. He was Melburnian of the Year in 2010 and was honoured with an Order of Australia medal in 2007. Both on and off the football field he possessed optimism and willpower. He was inspirational, dedicated and strong. His total of appearances, 264, is among the most in the proud history of the club which predates the drawing up of the rules of the game in 1859. 

Stynes won the Brownlow Medal in 1991 and he won four club best and fairest awards. His resilience is highlighted by the fact that he played 244 games in a row, the most by any player in the history of the AFL/Victorian Football League, which dates back to 1897. He needed this resilience in his fight against his terminal cancer, which was diagnosed in 2009. In 2003 Stynes was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame. There could not have been a more popular choice. The Jim Stynes Medal is awarded by the AFL to the best Australian player in the International Rules series. Stynes's name was also used in the inaugural International Australian Football Youth Tournament. 

Certainly in the Riverina, the Australian Rules heartland, there are many today who are mourning the premature death of this fantastic and warm human being. Chris Daniher, who will again be lining up for his beloved Ungarie in the Northern Riverina League at age 46 this coming season, remembered Jim Stynes as 'a competitive bloke.' 'He was very friendly, upfront, honest, a really nice fellow,' Daniher, of Essendon fame, said to me tonight. I know Paul Kelly from Wagga Wagga, the Brownlow Medallist of 1995 and former Sydney Swans captain, will also be deeply saddened by Jim's passing. 

Following Stynes's 1998 retirement from the game he loved so much and which he contributed so greatly to, he took on the role of an anti-racism officer within the AFL. He became Melbourne Football Club chairman and it was his wonderful personality, his magnificent drive, which helped enormously improve the club's debt woes. He also put many hours into his youth organisation, the Reach Foundation, which has as its goal to enable every young person to have the support and the self-belief they need to fulfil their potential, and to dare to dream. He served on an advisory board, including the Victorian government's suicide task force, and co-wrote children's self-help books. 

A loving husband to Samantha and father to Matisse and Tiernan, Jim Stynes was truly, truly a remarkable person. His mantra was simple: 'I love making a difference.' And he certainly did just that, every day and in every way. 

Every heart beats true for the Red and the Blue
As we sing this song to you… 
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
Keep your eye on the Red and the Blue. 
Jim Stynes, thanks for the memories. 

May he rest in peace.

Cristy Houghton