Dad knew son would be a star

Winning form: Graeme Ballantyne with Talent Show. Picture: Martin Philbey/WA News

Sitting in the stands of Geelong's Simonds Stadium in June, Graeme Ballantyne's fatherly instincts were confronted by the vitriol of Cats fans who had stamped his son Hayden as public enemy No.1.

Their brutal character assassination of the dynamic Docker left him bitter and angry as Fremantle trudged off the ground at "Sleepy Hollow" with a 41-point loss.

"Some of the stuff that was coming out of people's mouths, you just look at them and you know they'd actually hate people talking about their kids like that," Graeme said.

"You just try and turn a blind eye. There's not much you can do. You've just got to block your ears and not listen."


Just two months on, Graeme watched on with pride from the famous Flemington racetrack, where his Perth Cup winner Talent Show was starting her Melbourne spring carnival campaign, as the Dockers swooped on to the same Geelong ground to avenge that loss and advance to their first home preliminary final.

And next Saturday as he again saddles up Talent Show, who is part-owned by his son and Fremantle teammate Nick Suban, Graeme will seek out a television at the Caulfield racecourse in the hope of watching WA's port club win their way into their first AFL grand final.

It would be then that Hayden would get the chance to live out a dream he had coveted since he was not long out of nappies.

Graeme joked that his son's love for horses may even tempt him to try to stuff a radio down his sock while he is playing next Saturday, so he can listen to Talent Show's Caulfield race.

He said Hayden, who suffered from asthma during childhood, had been "devastated" at being overlooked by AFL recruiters until he had turned 21. But he was never deterred.

Fremantle finally came calling in 2008.

"From day one, all he wanted to do was play AFL," he said. "He always wanted it and always had a football in his hands from about the time he was five years old. I was always saying to him to put his head down and arse up and keep at it and hopefully he would get picked up. Being a bit short probably didn't help him, but he just kept at it and finally got picked.

"He was always a muck-around sort of a kid, but he's got his head screwed on the right way. He's done really well and it's full credit to himself because he's just worked hard at it."

Fast-talking and even quicker-acting, Hayden is preparing to become a father for the first time soon after the season finishes. His Twitter account features a simple self-explanation which describes himself perfectly.

"WA lad, love me family, footy, racehorses, and having a good time all the time . . . dislike needles, hammys, sharks and newspapers . . ." it reads.

Hayden's former WAFL coach Chris Waterman and then-Peel Thunder teammate Ben Howlett, now an Essendon midfielder, paint a picture of a young man in a hurry in life. Always keen to find fun, but equally anxious to succeed.

"He's a cheeky little bugger and that's just the way he was," Waterman, a dual premiership star at West Coast, recalled.

"He's made himself into what he is just by his nature and you get used to it. It was almost like you could never keep him down.

"He's a ripper and does as much off the field for a club as he does on, but to sum him up, you wouldn't want to have the locker next door to him.

"He's a funny little bloke and he's had a good run recently. He's won a Sandover Medal, his nanna won Lotto, his horse won the Perth Cup, he's playing good AFL footy and in a couple of weeks time he could be an AFL premiership player."

Howlett was Hayden's teammate and housemate in 2007 and this week recalled some crazy dynamics within their Meadow Springs home, just north of Mandurah.

"He always loved scaring people, hiding in places and jumping out of a cupboard or something," Howlett said.

"The opposition hate him, but have admiration for him because he's so good that they have to hate him."