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.

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

Oh so sweet September

September 1, 2022 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: AFLM, NSW Demons, Our history, Our stories 

September…. My favourite month of the year

Nigel Dawe

Before commencing this piece, I made a point of closing my eyes and taking a deep breath through my nose… and you can smell it… September that is – oh, so sweet September! There is nothing that stirs my inner 12-year-old to life than the thought of the Melbourne Demons headed to the finals.

Ironically, a book I was recently gifted by my sister called ‘Footy Banners’ sits at my elbow, and it has a snap on its cover which I figure in as a dot. It is the 1989 State of Origin at the MCG with the Vics streaming through their banner, and way up in the background between the major and the behind post (above the ‘M’ of the second Myer sign to the left) I’m there taking it all in as a then wide-eyed 12-year-old seeing his very first game at the ‘G.

As for that beautiful, mad 9th month of the year we call September (doubly so, seeing ‘sept’ stood for the numeral seven in ancient Rome) originally there were only 10 months in a calendar year. January and February weren’t added until quite some time later, and when they finally were, no one bothered to correct the other month names to reflect the ‘addition’.

Ancient history aside, our team is about to embark on its 41st September campaign, to hopefully net a 14th premiership, and if we do, it will be the 37th time in VFL/AFL history that a team has gone all the way after finishing the regular season in second place. Incredibly the Melbourne Demons have played in 90 finals matches, the exact same as the South Melbourne/ Sydney Swans. The ledger changes when you factor in the win/loss record though, the Demons having won 54 games to the Swans overall 40.

That’s the backstory, the one surging towards us concerns our third ever final against the red and white wearing Swans. For two foundation clubs, it is incredible that we’ve only met so few times. Who could forget the last time though? It was the second week of the finals in that magical year of 1987, a day in which our Demons left the field 76-point victors with Robbie Flower having kicked a game high four goals.

The first and only other time our two sides have met in September was way back in the preliminary final of 1936. That day we were beaten to the tune of 26-points by a then all-conquering team that won the flag three years prior, and were known as the ‘foreign legion’ because of the sheer number of players they had ‘acquired’ from abroad to bolster their ranks.

Back to the present day, and good luck Dees for our upcoming 91st finals match against the Swans, a wonderful omen – that being Jimmy Stynes Brownlow winning year. And let’s hope Simon Goodwin’s incredible post-season record continues, which currently reflects an 83% winning return.

Even the great Norm Smith claimed a 69% winning average in finals (mind you that was for 23-games in 11 different finals campaigns, compared to Simon’s six-games in his two post-seasons so far).

And ‘finally’, come what may, keep a quiet eye on the Geelong-Collingwood match, as there is an absolute potential hidden treat. Should our arch combatants in the black and white go down to the more favoured Cats, it will be their 100th loss in a final, making them the first team in the history of the league to notch up such a ‘wobble-some’ feat.

Appreciating Greatness

June 19, 2022 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: AFLM, NSW Demons, Our history, Our stories 

Nigel Dawe

The double-edged thing about success when you get it, is that you shouldn’t ever expect or consider it your natural right or entitlement.

As a long-term devotee of this team of ours, I don’t for a moment reach for any panic button or delete keys because our side has suddenly dropped their last three games (after winning the previous 17). Quite the opposite, I think the next few weeks will be the most exciting, if not the most telling ones we’ve had for a very long time.

The great thing about champions (in any sport) is that they rise when all seems lost, it’s not the ginormous score lines or the sublime repeated passages of faultless precision, but the seemingly insurmountable tight spots they can somehow get out of, that might otherwise ensnare and crush those of a lesser mettle.

Whilst the last three weeks of footy haven’t been the most enjoyable ones I’ve ever experienced, they have reminded me of the thrill I have always taken from watching the Melbourne Demons (irrespective of them winning or losing).

It can sometimes be the individual prowess of a team member that refuses to submit (Gawny the week before last, it was easily the best game I’ve seen him play) and watching Gus Brayshaw and also the ‘Son of Todd’ – Jack Viney on the weekend, if all 18 Dees had applied themselves in such a way, then all-time record scores would’ve toppled!

But that’s sport, and the very thing that keeps you loyal and true with regards to the things that mean the most in life, as Winston Churchill himself well knew: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

And as such, I reckon our Dees will be back breathing fire after the bye, they will regroup and put all distractions aside so as to ascend the heights of this game once more. I’d love them to hear and take onboard the former American President Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘Man in the Arena’ speech.

Finally, congrats to the new inductees of the AFL Hall of Fame, to a player – they are absolutely worthy candidates. But can someone honestly tell me how Garry Lyon was overlooked again? Did he previously run over a member of the selection committee’s grandmother, or family pet?

Pound-for-pound, ‘Lyon Heart’ was the best player (with the possible exception of one Robert Flower) I have seen in my 40-years of following the Melbourne Demons; the fact neither of these two ever won a Brownlow is also another bugbear of mine.

Keeping in mind, none other than Jack ‘Captain Blood’ Dyer once said in the mid to late-90s: “I look at him [Lyon] and I see everything I love about the game… It’s a mystical thing. A matter of mind over matter. It’s not something that you can switch on or off. Some days you know you are invincible and you go out and do the invincible thing. An ordinary player never has the feeling let alone the ability to take a game by the scruff of the neck. Great players do it from time to time. Champions do it most of the time. Garry Lyon is a champion who does it more often than any player I’ve seen since Laurie Nash.”

Should anyone require any remote confirmation of this, then simply watch a replay of the ’94 Semi Final against the Bulldogs, our #3 kicked a lazy 10-goals that day (double figures in a final being a feat that has only been done by four players in the history of the game, Lyon being one of them, not to mention the very last player to do so) after leaving the ground early in the final quarter.

What’s more, ‘Captain Blood’ also went on to very aptly say alongside his above-mentioned comments: “Lyon has already set himself up for a prominent place in the AFL Hall of Fame. I wouldn’t want to be in there if he wasn’t going to join me one day.”

So, let’s just hope that that day finally comes, and Dyer’s spirit, along with the spirit of every footy purist, can then rest in peace.

Here is Roosevelt’s ‘Man in the Arena’ speech

An ANZAC memory – Joe Pearce and the MFC

April 22, 2022 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: AFLM, NSW Demons, Our history, Our stories 

Joe Pearce – Melbourne Footballer and Fallen Gallipoli Soldier

Nigel Dawe

I wouldn’t readily call myself a creature of habit, knockabout with intermittent bouts of adherence to routine would be more in line with how I get through my days.

But that said, each and every ANZAC day I unfailingly make a point of listening to ‘The Pogues’ version of Eric Bogle’s 1971 classic ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ all whilst having a quiet, reflective ale.

Without exception each year one man comes clear to mind through the revering mist of deep respect and remembrance – this year Arthur Mueller ‘Joe’ Pearce.

A Melbourne stalwart and the first VFL footballer (along with 22 of his mates from the 7th Battalion) to lose his life during the twilight mayhem of the Gallipoli landings of 25thApril, 1915. All 23 soldiers, including our gallant Joe Pearce, who was only 30-years old at the time, were buried on that blood-stained beach of ANZAC Cove.

As a player, the number 19 wearing Joe Pearce (who played a then club record 152 games between 1904-13) was a bustling and formidable full-back that also refused any form of match payment. Gifted and by all accounts as fair as they come (in his spare time Joe was even a Sunday school superintendent) but none other than Collingwood’s Dick Lee – the Buddy Franklin of his day, once referred to Pearce as ‘clearly my best opponent.’

A cousin of the future Melbourne icon – Jack Mueller; when the club gave Joe Pearce a send-off before he left for the war, Pearce is known to have graciously said: “I have thought this thing over and I have considered it every way. I am young, strong, healthy and athletic and I think I ought to go, and if I don’t come back, well, it won’t much matter.”

But to this day, I believe Joe’s legacy matters immensely. Some two months after his passing at Gallipoli in 1915, Melbourne wore black armbands for a match against Essendon in his honour. A match that resulted in a truly fitting 19-point win (that being Joe’s old guernsey number) after the side came from behind following a burst of four inspired goals late in the final term.

Some years ago, I wrote about getting hold of an original 1909 Melbourne team photo, it has since become one of my most prized possessions: primarily because of the fact that a pensive Joe Pearce looms like a beacon at the far right in the very back row.

Upon closer inspection, Joe is the only member of that entire team to be gazing away from the camera. He is seemingly drawn by the spectre of a destiny that would not only see him die young, but in such a way that he’d never grow old – remaining of eternal inspiration to all in the Melbourne fold.

To Joe Pearce and the other 8,708 Australian soldiers that gave their lives at Gallipoli all those years ago – Thank you, and Lest We Forget.

The Pogues – The band played waltzing matilda

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