Whatever it Took – A Jim Stynes Tribute

March 26, 2024 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: AFLM, NSW Demons, Our history, Our stories 
Jim Stynes in the ruck

Jim Stynes – 23 April 1966 – 20 March 2012

Nigel Dawe

AS the years go by it gets harder to accept that Jim Stynes is gone, doubly so that it has now been 12-years exactly since this shining light, if not absolute shooting star of an individual passed away, decades too soon – we all might add.

Akin to one of my favourite literary heroes, Albert Camus, who like Jim, died in his mid-40s, you have to wonder what wonderful things were still in store, not just for them as individuals, but for all who knew and loved them, albeit directly benefited from what they did so selflessly, and prodigiously.

But there’s the rub, and as the old saying goes, “It’s not the years in your life, it’s the life in your years” and what Jim managed to pack into his allotment of ‘annual grants’, fully amounts to the grand sum of at least 10 people.

As the Algerian-born Camus (who also made a name for himself in a distant land) once said, which could aptly encapsulate Jim’s own approach to life, “Everything which is alive is ours. All we need to do to become conscious of our task is to open our eyes…What we are, what we have to be, are enough to fill our lives and occupy our strength.”

To say that Jim was a hero of mine is an absolute understatement, and as such, it’s an incredible accompaniment, if not ‘feature’ of my own life that his run of consecutive first grade games for Melbourne kicked off when I was in year 5 of primary school in 1987, and came to an end in my fourth year of university, 11 years later. It’s still mind-boggling to think that he was a playing member of the team I barracked for in every match throughout this period, or 244-games to be precise, an AFL record that will surely never be beaten.

From the start of his career, Jim was a favourite of mine (I was also a ruckman for the teams I played in as a junior) his passion, aggression and approach to the game was something that truly inspired me, and when he won his Brownlow Medal in 1991, I didn’t sleep for a whole week afterwards, I was that excited. To think he’d never picked up an AFL ball until he was 18, and then went on to win the game’s highest award 7-years later, isn’t just an improbable case of ‘selling ice to the eskimos’, it’s more a case of creating a 10-metre-high ice sculpture with a pair of tweezers, in the middle of the Sahara Desert!

Not to mention ruckmen of this era were no lightweights, they all looked far more like menacing villains out of a Bond film. That was until Stynes changed ‘the face’ of this role in every sense; the fact he could run all day and not miss a beat, revolutionised not just the possibilities, but the expectation of what ruckmen ’could do’, right up to this very day. To see any of the modern-day ruckmen go about their business and ply their trade, is to see the pure, polished spectre of Stynes in each of their separate moves and manoeuvres.

One of my favourite memories of Jim Stynes (as a player) was ironically the 1988 Grand Final, a game remembered by most of us, for all the wrong reasons (having lost the match by a then record 90-odd points to Hawthorn). But Jim played his heart out that day, he was the clear best player for Melbourne by an Irish country mile; there’s just something about those that never take a backward step or refuse to submit, and it’s something you never quite see in full, until you observe someone still applying this approach, when all hope is lost.

As if I somehow knew from the beginning that Jim would go on to be not just a great of the Melbourne Football Club, but the entire game itself, I kept a folder of newspaper cuttings and magazine articles related to him. A folder I still dip into from time to time, to remind me of how being the best version of your own self requires giving all you have (and then some) to what you do, because as Jim well knew – it is the only way ‘to reach’ the land of your wildest dreams.

Relatedly, Jim’s fellow Dublin-born, Oscar Wilde once said, “The aim of life is self-development. To realise one’s nature perfectly – that is what each of us is here for.” And as if he were following Wilde’s directive to the very letter, Jim Stynes required only 45-years to perfect a nature so impressive and rare, that we may never see the likes of it again.

May you rest in peace Jim Stynes, and thank you for blessing our lives with the gifts you bestowed upon us, you will never be forgotten.

Vale Ron Barassi

September 20, 2023 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: AFLM, NSW Demons, Our history 
RDB in full flight

Ronald Dale Barassi – the greatest of them all.

Nigel Dawe

“O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up – for you the flag is flung – for you the bugle trills… For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning; … The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done, From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won.” (Walt Whitman)

FEW people from any era, the world over, ever attain the status of icon, let alone ever becoming synonymous with their chosen, albeit God-given talent for a vocation they come to define, altering its entire landscape through their deeds in such a way that it is never the same again.

Bradman was one, Einstein another; individuals that represent the unsurpassable pinnacle of some given branch of human endeavour. In our code of football, none encapsulate the essence, soul or mythical substance of the game itself at the highest level more than Ronald Dale Barassi Jr.

Everything about this legendary figure reads like a tale of fantastically crafted fiction; from living under the same roof as the equally immortal Norm Smith, to playing and starring in six premierships for the club (a period uneclipsed by any other side in all of the sport’s history) to wholly embodying the tenacity, grit and commitment it takes to reach the top in a sport that plays no favourites, let alone bless a player in such a way as it did our ultimate strong heeled General – Ron Barassi.

Wearing the same number (31) as his war hero and premiership winning father; the legend that is Barassi Jr will forever far exceed the capacity of any of us to remotely convey even the broadest sweep of it. That said, one of my favourite and earliest footy tales pertains to the game’s first ruck-rover (fancy there being no position as such, prior to your involvement in a sport?) But years ago, I remember hearing the yarn about someone ducking and weaving through the mystical halls of heaven in a red and blue guernsey that had the number 31 on its back… it merely turned-out being Jesus Christ – making out that he was Ron Barassi!

The fact our club’s greatest and most celebrated warrior passed away the very day after a heartbreaking loss in a final, is testament that football is rarely a place for genteel swan songs or fairy tales, if not ones that end perfectly for their heroes every time. It is however a place for deeds that demand recalling season after season so that they might remain fresh and vibrant, and live long in the minds of us all.

There isn’t always glory in triumph, but there can often be the purest tinge of glory in defeat; and the laurel of having not given up, is one more pristine and worthy of a champion’s brow than the one given for having won without exceeding extremes. As such, my favourite picture of Barassi, is the airborne one of him in the 1961 Preliminary Final, clearly doing all he could to will a win that would’ve put his side into a record 8th straight Grand Final – that wasn’t to be – but his clear weight-of-the-world expression seems to encapsulate for all-time what being an all-time great means.

I didn’t know Barass, in fact I only ever met him the once, after sneaking out of my workplace for a book signing of his at Dymocks years ago. But I remember saying to him that I wish I were born many years before I actually was, just to have been able to see him play; and to this day that would certainly be one of my wishes if I were ever granted three by some unbottled and bestowing genie.

One thing I also would’ve loved to have done, and genuinely wish that I had, would be to sit in a deserted MCG with Ron and ask what came to mind when he looked out over that hallowed ground. Because for many of us, it is a fully sanctified field of dreams, but for fortune’s most favoured number 31, it must’ve surely been something infinitely more – something akin to a physical realm of pure realised dreams.

Rest In Peace Ronald Dale Barassi, there will never be a more worthy or true warrior-like flag bearer of the grand old flag than you!

What a mark!

Dees Never Say Die

July 23, 2023 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: AFLM, NSW Demons, Our history 

Round 18 – Melbourne V Brisbane

Liam Chambers

Q1 – The Demons come out fighting.

It was a must win game for the Demons if they were to maintain the coveted top four position. Geelong is making a late dash and we don’t want them to usurp us in the last weeks of the regular season. On the positive side, the Lions have been underperforming in their away games and the MCG hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for them in almost a decade.

Melbourne went hard early hoping to catch Brisbane napping. Let’s just say, the Lions were still rubbing the sleep from their eyes, while the Dees tore through the visitors’ back line.

Alex Neal-Bullen kicked the opener from a free, after he was taken out of the marking contest, just to the right of the square. It was an easy conversion, and the Dees were away.

A minute later, Christian Petracca had his first, after controlling the bouncing ball, then turning and snapping from 15m in front. Two minutes later, Petracca had a second when he marked on the arc, then ran in a semi-circle before booting from 50m to split the middle.

Dees fans little time to bask in their team’s reflected glory though, as Ben Brown was awarded a free against Harris Andrews, who was caught holding the ball. Big Ben’s signature long run up set shot resulted in the key forward hitting the target from 50m.

With four goals in ten minutes, Melbourne had reason to feel very happy with their performance. It was only a matter of time though before Brisbane settled down and showed what a quality opponent they can be.

Slowly, the Lions started to wrest back some momentum, culminating in Zac Bailey’s 50m set shot hitting the spot and giving his team their first major. Despite Brisbane’s new found dominance, it was the Dees who picked up the next goal, via a great team effort.

Jake Melksham controlled the bouncing ball, then turned and snapped to Ben Brown inside 50. Brown marked and ran on, then unselfishly hand passed to Charlie Spargo, as he hovered on the edge of the square. The small forward strolled to goal line and hammered it home for Melbourne’s fifth.

After the goal, Brisbane resumed control of the game but were unable to make the most of their chances. Then, with three minutes remaining, Charlie Cameron ran out to take a mark, 20m from the goal line. It was a piece of cake for the high scoring Cameron and Brisbane narrowed the margin to seventeen points. It was already a goal fest for the fans but there were more majors to come.

First Kysaiah Pickett was awarded a free for his tackle on Darcy Wilmot in the pocket. Kozzie has struggled to put points on the board in recent weeks, but his 35m set shot from the tight angle was perfect.

Then, Joe Daniher marked the ball in a similar spot, up the other end. His kick after the siren sailed through, setting up an exciting second term.

Q2 – The Lions even the score.

The opening chapter of our heroic tale had been a quarter of two halves, with first Melbourne and then Brisbane dominating; the Lions carrying the momentum into the break.

The Demons got the opener though, after Brisbane turned the ball over, allowing Jake Bowey the opportunity to collect and snap from 40m.

After the bounce, Melbourne continued to worry the Brisbane defence before the visitors broke through and transitioned the length of the ground. Oscar McInerney, lumbering inside 50, was able to collect the ball and just manage to tap it through the uprights. Then the Lions had back to back majors when Will Ashcroft was the last link in a seamless end to end chain. His 40m kick from the pocket was only ever going between the uprights, and Brisbane gave the screw another turn.

After that, the Lions went up a gear, controlling the game with Melbourne valiantly fending off wave after wave of attacks. Finally though, Jaspa Fletcher took an intercept mark and bounced his way inside 50, before unleashing from 40m.

It was now a five point game with the Lions well and truly on top; the pressure continuing unabated. It was only a matter of time before Brisbane took the lead. The inevitable happened when Jack Gunston cleanly converted his 40m set shot, putting the Lions ahead by a single point.

Then, when it looked like Melbourne risked falling further behind, Petracca took a mark inside 50. He went back and kicked from the 50m line, claiming his hat trick.

Brisbane wasn’t to be denied their half time lead though. With thirty nine seconds to go, Lincoln McCarthy marked at the top of the square and put the Lions ahead again.

Q3 – Brisbane turn it up to eleven.

Melbourne dominated the stats in the first half, but Brisbane transitioned the ball better and made the most of their opportunities inside 50. In order to take back control, the Dees needed to emulate the Lions’ kicking efficiency.

Unfortunately, Brisbane hit the scoreboard first when Lincoln McCarthy kicked another goal after he marked 35m out. It was back to back majors for the forward and just the start the Lions wanted.

Undeterred, Melbourne went on to win the clearance and launched an immediate attack. Taj Woewodin, who almost kicked a goal on his debut in Round 17, was not to be denied a second time, as his 45m shot from the boundary found the target. There was much rejoicing as his team mates gathered around to celebrate.

The scoreline see sawed as the goals continued with Jack Gunston snapping from 15m, returning the margin to seven points. Despite the numbers on the board, the Lions were owning the quarter, keeping the Dees hemmed inside their defensive half.

Melbourne withstood the avalanche of pressure for what seemed like an eternity, before Brisbane finally broke through, courtesy of a Zac Bailey’s snap from 30m. The juggernaut from the north continued to ride roughshod over the Demons’ defence, scoring their third in a row when Jarryd Lyons snapped a bullet from 48m. More torture ensued when Jack Gunston marked and scored from a 30m set shot.

The outlook for Melbourne was bleak with the Lions completely dominating inside 50 and being frustratingly accurate with their kicking. It was a worried looking coach on the sidelines, as Simon Goodwin pondered his options in a game rapidly slipping from his grasp. To add to the pain, Harrison Petty was subbed out with an injury. His replacement Joel Smith ran on to take up the fight.

Then, a moment of sweet relief, when Kozzie Pickett swooped to collect the loose ball, before finding enough space to launch and score from 25m.

Regrettably, the relief was short lived as Eric Hipwood converted from deep in the pocket to restore the twenty eight point margin.

Captain Max Gawn, who was in his element dominating the ruck all night, was suddenly gifted a free kick from 45m out. Gawny kicked for the stars and was rewarded when his shot fell back down to earth, just behind the goal line. It was the boost and injection of self-belief that the Dees needed, and the fans were ecstatic.

It looked like Melbourne might get another, immediately after the bounce, but Brisbane turned the ball around and got it up the other end. There, Charlie Cameron kicked his second, with the shot coming off the inside of his left boot.

There was an encouraging end to the quarter though, and reason for optimism, as Jacob van Rooyen took up the ruck position, tapping down the ball, where Kozzie collected and passed to Petracca, allowing him to snap his fourth of the night.

Q4 – The miracle at the MCG.

On paper, the Lions had the game in the bag, but the Demons have played some great footy in the last term this season. However, a win for Brisbane would greatly assist their chances of securing a top two spot, so there was motivation aplenty.

When Joe Daniher hit the turf like he was auditioning for the Fall Guy reboot, it appeared to be a case of signed, sealed and delivered for the Lions. Joe slotted the set shot for his third of the night and Steven May was left fuming that his gentle caress of Daniher’s back had handed Brisbane a twenty six point lead.

Possibly because the Lions felt safe enough to relax, or the Dees were naturally motivated by the injustice of it all, is uncertain (possibly a combination of both) but the incident proved a catalyst for a Demon revival.

The determination was unquestionable, but it seemed that old accuracy hoodoo was again haunting Melbourne, with three minor scores in a row. When James Jordan put his set shot wide and the clock slipped under ten minutes, a victorious comeback seemed a bridge too far. 

However, master bridge builder Max Gawn continued to lay the ground work, refusing to submit and urging his troops forward. As the minutes ticked away, the four goal disadvantage pushed victory further and further out towards the horizon.

Then with just over seven minutes remaining, Kozzie went for a mark just outside the 50m line; bent down to retrieve the ground ball while evading two encroaching Lions, then ran on, kicking with his left boot. The ball curved slowly in a beautiful arc that could have been set to music. Finally, and incredibly it floated between the posts.

Now, it was caution to the wind time, as Melbourne took their momentum and launched themselves at Brisbane with no thoughts for the consequences. Another minor score and then a wonderfully placed kick by Gawn, which was marked in the pocket by Jake Melksham. The around the corner set shot kick went through and took the Dees to within two goals of the Lions, with less than five minutes to play.

The Lions were under siege and a rushed behind ensued. Then a stoppage where the ball was tapped down. Oscar McInerney grabbed the sherrin, but he had it ripped from his hands by the iron willed Jack Viney; the midfielder then spun around and snapped at goal, taking the Dees to within five points of an unbelievable upset.

Melbourne had two minutes to win the match and the Lions had two minutes to deny them. The entire MCG was in a heightened state of tension.

When Angus Brayshaw’s kick inside 50 soared high, all eyes were on the ball, but it was Jake Melksham who ended up with the sherrin tightly clasped in his hands, as he tumbled across the turf. Taking the full thirty seconds, Melksham went back to kick perhaps the most important shot of his career. The kick, when it left his boot from just inside 50, was pure perfection. As the ball crossed the goal line, the roar from the crowd was deafening.

With ten seconds left, the Lions made one last desperate dash. The ball sailed towards Brisbane’s goal, but the mark was taken on Jake Lever’s chest, with Eric Hipwood’s arm draped across his shoulder. The mark was rightfully claimed by Lever, despite pleas from Hipwood to the umpire that he had marked it. Maybe the Brisbane fans believed that but nobody else was buying it.

While the history of the Melbourne club continues to be written, a special paragraph should be dedicated to this famous victory.

We host the Adelaide Crows in Round 19. They may be fading towards the business end of the season, but we would be foolish indeed to dismiss them.

Go the Mighty Dees!!!

Marking time in the spirit of the game…

May 25, 2023 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: AFLM, NSW Demons, Our history, Our stories 
Warne Smith cartoon

Happy 90th birthday Demons and let us not forget the incomparable Ivor Warne Smith

Nigel Dawe

NOT for the first time this decade, have I been dismayed by the temporal provisional nature of the manner in which modern day scribes and all-referring record purveyors herald the deeds of players who grace our fields.

The first was the way in which Dusty Martin was wrapped in platinum for being the inaugural player to B.O.G in three grand finals (not taking anything away from his incredible efforts in those three big dances) but it came at the direct expense of Percy Beames’ three grand final B.O.G efforts in a row (1939-40-41) – efforts I might add, that were not referenced in any way at the time (or since).

All this week I’ve been tormented by the same aversion by those ‘in the know’ when it comes to the actual facts behind the records we hold up and celebrate as such. While Darcy Moore’s 10 grabs in defence were stellar last week, they were not by any means ‘the greatest’, albeit anywhere near the output of Ivor Warne-Smith in the 1925 preliminary final (which was ironically against the magpies).

In what has clearly long since, and very sadly drifted into history, the future dual Brownlow medallist and all-time Melbourne great, Warne-Smith pulled in an almost unfathomable tally of 9 marks (in defence) in 11 absolute lightning-like minutes of the 3rd quarter of that prelim final (all whilst plugging the gaps caused by the side being reduced to 15 men). A match Melbourne would gallantly go on to lose by 37-points.

Incredibly, it is not known how many other marks Warne-Smith took that day nearly a century ago at the ‘G, but you’d hazard a guess it was considerably more than the nine he took in that confined blistering spell; the recording of individual statistics for things like possessions and all manner of other performance related metrics were absolute decades away from being outright captured, let alone even vaguely ‘looked for’.

I must admit I have a chronic red and blue tinged soft spot for Warne-Smith, to the point he is my all-time favourite footballer. The fact he was a returned Gallipoli soldier (who also lost a lung after being gassed in the trenches of France) before he played his first game for Melbourne, is something I consider so astonishing, that it will never be eclipsed.

Can you imagine the recruiter’s report in this day and age – “Candidate is missing one entire lung through active war service!?” The poor guy wouldn’t even get the nod for a time trial, let alone onto a team list to prove the science wrong through his own ticker and tenacity.

Another intriguing, albeit hugely endearing facet of this indestructible man is the fact he worked most game days shovelling coal for the railways very early in the morning, after which he’d enjoy a schooner or two with mates before heading off to the football to play in such a way that he is still considered one of, if not the greatest players to ever wear the red and blue.

If all the above weren’t deft defying enough, how’s the fact Ivor turned his back on the bright lights of Melbourne (after one season in 1919) and went to Tasmania for a period of 5-years in his early 20s (which are arguably any players ‘best years’ when it comes to footy) and became an apple farmer, which is something I admire.

Warne-Smith then resumed his career with Melbourne in 1925, within 12-months he had won his first Brownlow medal, but back then there was only one vote awarded by a field umpire for each game, which somehow makes the award seemingly much harder to win. The 3-2-1 method wasn’t to be introduced until after Warne-Smith claimed his second medal in 1928.

And finally, happy 90th birthday to our mascot-moniker of the demons, this weekend (being round 11) marks, at three-quarter time, the precise occasion that ‘Checker’ Hughes glared at his trailing troops back in 1933 and implored them: “Lift your heads and start playing like demons!”

Prior to this, our side were known variously through the years as the Invincible Whites (cricketers being the first to play the game) the Metropolitans, Reds, Redlegs, Fuchsias and then of course the mighty fear-inducing foot soldiers of Lucifer himself – the Demons.

Carna Demons cartoon
90 years drawing
the demons logo

In the illustrious shadows of Fred Fanning

December 23, 2022 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: AFLM, NSW Demons, Our history 

Fred Fanning

Nigel Dawe

For the past few months, I’ve been meaning to draft up a tribute piece to commemorate the 75th anniversary of a feat that may never be beaten, let alone ever remotely challenged.

I’m of course referring to Fred Fanning’s haul of 18 goals, 1 behind in the last round (30th August) of 1947, a game that would also be his last (at 25-years of age) for the Melbourne Demons.

Fittingly, a movie released in the very same month of that very same year was called ‘Brute Force’ and starred an equally young ‘take no prisoners’ Burt Lancaster.

Another omen of sorts just one month prior to Fred Fanning’s final round goal feast against the Saints, was something equally otherworldly in the form of what’s become known as the Roswell Incident, in which debris of not just a UFO spacecraft was found, but allegedly the bodies of its alien pilots as well.

Relatedly, I have a number of framed pictures of Melbourne players in my house, but none feature more prominently than the one I have of Fred Fanning in ‘full flight’, having just launched one of his right foot rockets: it reminds me of an ancient statue of the god Hermes. For those that might not know, this fleet-footed deity with his be-winged sandals was apparently able to move between the worlds of the mortal and the divine, in addition to being the god of athletes, speed, thieves, magic and dreams.

While time lends many a feat the ‘quality’ and gleaned quandary of exaggerated myth and fable, the legacy of Fred Fanning is one that has shone confirmably, albeit unrepeatably from the very day he hung up his boots in the VFL at the Junction Oval, some 75-years ago.

If the 18 goals, with just the one ‘poster’ that came in the third quarter, in front of the sticks in his last outing (which totals 109 points alone) is not enough to make you shake your head in disbelief, then how’s the story Don Cordner would often recount about how running onto the field that day, Fred apparently turned to him with a grin and said, in Babe Ruth fashion: “I’m gonna bag 18 today!”

And that he did, after threading 10 goals the week before, taking his tally to 33 majors in the last three matches he played for Melbourne, that being an average of 11 goals in each of those games. No one in the history of the sport has gone even close to matching this ‘hidden’ statistic.

Magpie great, Gordon Coventry bowed out with 16 goals in his last three outings; even arguably the game’s greatest sharpshooter of all – John Coleman (who debuted with 12 goals in his first game and kicked a neat 100 majors in his first season) finished up his career with 21 goals in his final three appearances.

Seemingly, there was nothing diminutive about our burly #6 wearing Demon forward. That he couldn’t do anything by halves, constitutes Fanning’s most defining trait: as his mention in the Guinness Book of Records testifies – you’ll find him listed next to the longest kick (in any code of football) in the world. A young Fred Fanning dobbed a goal on the full from the very centre of the MCG (or exactly 105.5 mts) in the reserves Grand Final of 1939, the same day he kicked a lazy 12 goals for Melbourne!

Add to Fred Fanning’s footy CV – the most goals by a Demons player in one season (97 in 1947) and the highest average goals per game by anyone to wear the red and blue (3.95) in 104 games; the club best and fairest award in 1945, and you get a glimpse of what it takes to become an all-time great at a club like the Melbourne Demons.

After seeing a newspaper article written by Tony De Bolfo, 12-months before Fred Fanning passed away in 1993, a young Dees fan sent the legendary spearhead a self-addressed envelope with a myriad of questions and a card for him to autograph.

To this day, it’s one of my most prized possessions, and creates a direct mercurial link for me to one of the game’s most enigmatic figures. Interestingly, in Fred’s hand-written response, he made mention amongst other things, that his toughest opponent was South’s Jim Cleary; that kicking the first goal from the boundary line in the 1940 Grand Final was ‘unforgettable’, before rounding out with: “I was aware of Coventry’s record (of 17 goals).”

Which you can just imagine our red and blue colossus, fathoming how he was about to play his last game in the big league, thus set himself the challenge of bowing out with a bag that no one would ever forget, let alone come close to ever replicating again.

With that fantastically said, and signing off now for the last time in 2022, on behalf of the NSW Demons, whether or not you support the grandest team of all – have a wonderful festive season.

After claiming last year’s men’s premiership and this year’s women’s silverware (along with the men at Casey ‘flying the flag’) here’s to the thought of a bountiful, truly beautiful, red and blue hued 2023!

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