North clash with Hawthorn
Rohan Connolly previews the weekend's AFL action, including Friday night's game between an inconsistent North Melbourne and high flying Hawthorn.PT5M21S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3b8eq 620 349 July 2, 2014
Hayden Ballantyne ... just his name will send some football fans crazy - particularly those who don't follow Fremantle.
But love him or hate him, Ballantyne's presence on the field can't be ignored.
While he has made a name for himself for providing a bit of backchat on the field - much to the anger of opponents (especially those at Geelong) - he's made a career out of putting pressure on opposition defenders in Fremantle's attacking zone and kicking goals from turnovers.
Love him or hate him, Hayden Ballantyne's presence on the field can't be ignored. Photo: Getty Images
And on Saturday night in Darwin, when Fremantle takes on Melbourne, Ballantyne will play his 100th game.
Unlike his opponents, Ballantyne has learnt to shut out negative comments from people who don't like him much and, usually, concentrate on playing football.
He shares, with skipper Matthew Pavlich, Fremantle's goalkicking tally, with 30, to sit ninth in the race for the Coleman Medal.And for that reason, he appears to be winning over some opposition fans, even on the east coast.
Ton up: Hayden Ballantyne will play his 100th match for Fremantle this weekend. Photo: Getty Images
''It's nice of them," Ballantyne said this week. "I haven’t really heard anything. I've said before, they've said a lot of bad things, they've said a lot of good things. I'm just worried about what the coach and captain says. Apart from that nothing really fazes me.
''[The backchat] was never really a big part of my game anyway. It was always about playing football. You have a bit of banter and a bit of fun out there. Outside perception doesn't count too much for me.
''There's not much point in playing footy if you're not having fun. That's why kids go and play footy ... for fun. It's a professional sport here and we're getting paid to play, but I still love footy. I love playing the game and you've got to be having fun as well.''
Ballantyne reaches the century mark at the age of 26, having not been drafted until he was 21. He had to win a Sandover Medal, kicking 75 goals in the WAFL, to gain the attention of the Dockers.
In fairness, he hadn't set the world alight before that, having played just 39 games in the previous three seasons (kicking 56 goals).
Even for him, the chance of playing in the AFL was looking a long way off.
''I was a bit worried I wouldn't get into the AFL system for a few years there ... but I was lucky enough Fremantle gave me the opportunity to play AFL,'' he said.
"And 99 games down and hopefully a few more to go.
"It made me realise how lucky I am to be an AFL footballer. I was a boilermaker/welder for three years and that wasn't a lot of fun working in the workshops. But now I'm playing football for a job and getting paid to do it, so I'm loving my job and loving playing footy at the moment.''
Fremantle has a couple of players on its list who were overlooked in the AFL draft several times, including Michael Barlow, who was picked up by the Dockers after two unsuccessful pre-season training stints with St Kilda and Essendon.
While Barlow hit the AFL scene in amazing fashion, as if he had been playing at the highest level for years, it took Ballantyne some time to adjust. But now in his sixth season, he has certainly found his feet.
He attributes some words from coach Ross Lyon for his new-found consistency.
"He points out the things you need to work on and is just at you and at you and at you until you improve it,'' he said.
"Just little things like recover, and all the smaller things that I probably wasn't at the elite level like Matthew Pavlich and Luke McPharlin and blokes like that.
"Just picking my game up ... I think that's really helped because Ross holds everyone so accountable to everything.''
Opposition fans may still dislike him, but most would love to see him wearing their team colours.