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Stynes one of the best says Northey
Paul Mulvey
17:01 AEST Tue Mar 20 2012

It only took a few hours for John Northey to calm down.

But for a while, he was livid. The Jim Stynes experiment had cost Melbourne a place in their first grand final in 23 years.

And the Demons coach let the Irishman know it, giving Stynes an almighty spray after he ran across the mark in the dying seconds of the 1987 VFL preliminary final, allowing Hawthorn forward Gary Buckenara a simpler shot at goal to win the match.

Northey couldn't recall exactly what he said during a moment captured in a famous photo showing Stynes in the foregound with his head bowed.

But the coach knows it would have been emotion-charged and extreme.

"Whatever it was, it would have been absolutely stupid stuff," Northey told AAP on Tuesday.

"It was an emotional time.

"Jim and I got over that. We met in the lift that night and I told him to forget about the things I had said because they were just absolutely stupid."

Whether it was over-exuberance or a lack of knowledge of the rules in only his 13th senior game, it became a watershed moment in Stynes' career.

"It was just one of those little setbacks that were a great spur to him to improve himself any way he could to reach the top," Northey said of Stynes, who died on Tuesday following a battle with cancer.

"I don't think I've ever met a more determined fellow in achieving anything he set out to achieve."

Four years later, Northey sat with Stynes as he won the Brownlow Medal.

When Northey came to Melbourne in 1986 he saw a gangly Irish kid who could run all day but had skills which needed a lot of work.

Northey gave him his first game early in 1987 and said Stynes ended up one of the best players he had seen in his 14-year coaching career.

With an unmatched work ethic and determination, he learned the skills, added a few of his own and redefined the ruckman's role.

He ended up with 264 games, a Brownlow Medal, four club best and fairests, two All Australian selections, induction into the AFL Hall of Fame and was named in Melbourne's team of the century.

"When you can get first use and have a ruckman who can run all day like he could, that was the one thing that gave us the edge over a lot of sides," Northey said.

"Even if he didn't give first use of the ball, he'd be back on it pretty quickly. He'd be like a ruckman playing the ruck and then turn into a ruck-rover.

"Jim was able to head forward or back very, very quickly which left the other ruckman sitting back wondering how he was going to keep up."

Northey said his mental toughness was matched by his physical resilience as he repeatedly ignored serious injuries to string together a record 244 consecutive games.

As good as he was to coach, Northey said his teammates appreciated him even more.

"They just loved him, they really did. He'd stand up for them, give them support," he said.

"When it came to the crunch you could bet your life on it that Jim Stynes would be there for his teammates."