Bernard Flynn calls Jim Stynes Ireland's 'greatest emigrant'

Irish football legend Bernard Flynn says the late Jim Stynes was Ireland’s “greatest emigrant”. The Australian Rules football legend and charity king died form brain cancer last week.

"Irish people just have no idea the impact Jim made in Australia," Flynn told the Independent's Damien Lawlor. "A lot of Aussie sports superstars are arrogant and cocky, and ordinary people can't relate to them, but Jim was the opposite of all that. Sure, he enjoyed his profile and used it well for charity work but he despised the old bullshit that went with fame."

Flynn flew to Australia on December 30th. He had been in Melbourne for four days before Stynes, who was sick he couldn't leave the house, decided to step outside to get some air. Flynn recalls how they walked past the sea and stopped so Stynes could go in for a dip.

"I think he got a bit of freedom that day," said Flynn. "But I got an awful land when I saw him with his top off; his whole back and front had been opened to pieces and then closed up again. There were cuts all over his body. He had 19 tumours out of 21 removed and they just couldn't get the other two out. What his body went through none of us will ever comprehend. The man should have been dead two years ago but willpower kept him going.

"The next thing, two elderly couples came over. They couldn't but see the marks on his body and they just shook his hand and started to cry. Jim didn't know them from Adam but he had a few tears himself."

Flynn stayed in Australia until January 7th.

"It was like that famous documentary we saw on TV last year; he was draining all the vitamins from the vegetables and doing all he could to beat the cancer with all sorts of formulas and potions. He was obsessed with beating cancer.

"But what I took from the whole trip was how interested he still was in others. He could barely move around the house and yet he managed to drive an hour and a half to meet Tommy Walsh, who had arrived from Kerry to St Kilda. He spent a couple of hours talking, advising him and showing him things. I would say that was a very special moment for Tommy."

Flynn, who had known Stynes since the 1987 International Rules Series and spent Christmases with him, said:  "I learned pretty quickly that if Jim didn't like you that was the end of it, really, but we became real friends. Outside of my family he was the guy I would turn to, I suppose. He was great fun, extremely loyal. He loved a few jars in the off-season but wasn't a drinker at all. If he went on a session he'd be in bits for a week afterwards. He picked his pals very closely and in the last few years he kept a low profile and did his own thing -- he didn't like the adulation and materialism of the sports world.

"The truth is that he had done very well out of the 14 or so childcare centres he set up and was financially set and didn't need all that other stuff. He bought a beach house on the west of Melbourne but didn't really go in for the flash lifestyle.

"He was such a family man that the entire clan moved out, I think. The girls, Brian, David, his parents, Tess and Brian senior, relocated to Mornington, which is just outside Melbourne. It's a good thing that they're all close now and around to help Jim's two kids, Matisse and Tiernan."

Flynn adds, "The one thing I looked out for over the years was to see whether the superstardom had gotten to him but it never did. He was actually becoming a bigger name with every passing year and had developed into a brand at one stage, but he was still the same bloke on the other end of the phone.

"He called on Christmas morning; the family was on the way down to their beach house for a barbecue with close friends. It was basically a chance to say goodbye. He said the doctors were giving him two weeks and just mentioned that I'd be one of the first to know when he did pass. Of course, he rallied another five or six times, he just didn't want to let it beat him."

Flynn also recalled Stynes' distress over some of the social problems in his adopted country.

"I could tell how bitter he was about the youth scene there. There were drug problems, broken marriages, and he decided to do something about it. I think about 600,000 young kids in total went through the Reach Foundation that he co-founded to help teens overcome mental health and esteem issues. That's just astounding.

"A few of those kids were complete down-and-outs but through his programme they totally turned their lives around and some of them have become famous TV and radio presenters. On New Year's Eve last they flew in to meet Jim from all different parts of the world, successful business people, entrepreneurs, their lives totally transformed.

"Don't mind football -- that was the impact Jim Stynes had. That is his legacy. As I say, we just have no idea what impact he made down there. You can talk about Roy Keane, Robbie Keane, Bob Geldof, anyone, but no Irish person has made the impact in another land that Jim Stynes made in Australia. He is perhaps the greatest emigrant we ever had. To get a state funeral is absolutely massive. It just says it all.”

Aussie Rules legend Jim StynesGoogle Images