Mark Duffield: From the outside it looks like you are hitting form at the right time of the year. Would you agree with that?
Hayden Ballantyne: Yeah. I have kicked a few goals in the past few weeks which is pleasing but it is more so the pressure that I have been applying, not just me but all of the forward line. It has been really good and it helps the whole team. The defenders love it when the ball comes out pressured and their opponents don’t get the ball lace out. Across the board the whole forward line has improved.
MD: Did you go through a flat spot in the middle of the year?
HB: Yeah. I think it was a little bit of effort too. My opponents got on top of me sometimes. I would still be trying as hard as I could but it seemed to bounce the wrong way or I just couldn’t seem to get to the right spots. I think I have worked through that and got over it. I am starting to get more of the ball.
MD: Is that the first time in your career that you have encountered a period like that?
HB: In my AFL career it probably would be. I have played a couple of average games which I wouldn’t be happy with. But just head down and bum up as they say. I did all of the little things and got it all back on track.
MD: How did you deal with that? Ross Lyon said he didn’t notice your intensity drop off at all?
HB: Yeah that is what I did. I had a little mental image in my head of what I needed to do and I just went out and did it. I trained harder, not just on the track but doing weights in the gym, physio, massage, recovery, stuff like that. My body felt good and that gave me every opportunity to play well.
MD: Is your role more settled now as well, more time forward allowing you to get into a bit of a rhythm?
HB: Yeah definitely. I am still pinch hitting in the middle when I am needed or when I can. But having the same guys playing and gelling together with Michael Walters coming in, Pav, Kep, good chemistry definitely helps as a forward.
MD: You kicked one of your biggest scores for the year on the weekend. What does the forward group pride itself on at the moment?
HB: Pressure, definitely. We pride ourselves on chasing, tackling, harassing, putting the defenders and the midfielders under pressure so they don’t get an easy kick. We have a little competition with each other as to who gets the most tackles and stuff like that. Just chasing as hard as we can I think helps the whole team.
MD: Who is winning that competition at the moment?
HB: I would like to say me but I don’t think I am. Probably Mayney.
MD: What does Michael Walters bring to the forward line?
HB: A lot of talent. A lot of desire as well. When he got sent back to the WAFL he was filthy on himself. He really wanted to get back and start playing with us again. He is back again now and playing really good footy. He is so skilful and he reads the play so well. He is a big in for us.
MD: He has got great finish hasn’t he?
HB: His kicking skills are unreal. But he also sees things so well. He picks players out where not many others would see it so he is a very dangerous player.
MD: Tell us how far you think the group has progressed in pursuing Ross Lyon’s game style?
HB: It is hard to gauge really. I thought once it had clicked and we got Ross’s game style we would be hard to beat. Lately we have started to click and gel together, play how he wants. We played well on the weekend as it showed and that is how he wants us to play, putting pressure on them, defensive pressure and stuff like that. I think it has come a long way but there is always room to improve.
MD: Has being in the leadership group had any impact on you at all?
HB: I hope it hasn’t affected me at all. I hope I have stayed the same way because I was voted by the player group as I was. I think discipline was something I had to change a bit. A couple of suspensions hurt me a lot and I was filthy on myself but I have made another little mental image not to get suspended again. I think I have come a long way and hopefully I haven’t changed and am still the same person I was 12 months ago.
MD: How do you address the discipline stuff because you do play instinctively with your heart on your sleeve a bit? The incidents you speak of are spur of the moment incidents.
HB: It is hard because as you said you are playing on instinct. You have got a split second out there to decide whether you are going to bump, do whatever. As soon as you do it you think, I shouldn’t have done that or that was good. It is very hard and really you have just got to hope for the best and try to not put myself in situations where I get myself suspended.
MD: After you had been suspended do you think that affected your form at all? That you were subconsciously throttling back a bit?
HB: I hope not. That would take away from the way I play, take away the flair and instincts really which is the way I play my footy.
MD: What do you set out to do as far as scoreboard pressure goes as a small forward. Are you aiming for two or three a game?
HB: I have a few KPIs myself. I don’t really like sharing them. If I put myself in the right positions and chase hard and tackle hard I am going to have a few shots on goal a game.
MD: Is there one particular KPI you have been happy with?
HB: Something I have really been working on this year is my front and centres. I like to get to as many front and centres as I can, two, three or four per quarter. If I am doing that it is putting a lot of pressure on my opponent and then I am getting back to tackle, crumb and all of that kind of stuff so that is something I really work on.
MD: In which game do you think that worked best for you?
HB: I thought I crumbed well in the West Coast game and on the weekend as well.
MD: Do you model yourself on another small forward?
HB: Different types of players I watch because they are gifted in one area and not in others. Crumbing is definitely Milney. He is the best crumber going around and doesn’t miss many. He is definitely someone you look up to as a small forward.
MD: Are you in the right frame of mind and the right physical state to bother the best teams in September?
HB: I think so. We are fit and available. But we have got Melbourne this week and we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. It was only last week that we cemented our spot in the eight so we are lucky that we are there.
MD: You were injured in the finals in 2010 weren’t you?
HB: Yeah. I have been desperate to play finals since I have been here and I broke my foot before the 2010 finals campaign. It was the Carlton game – the last game before the finals and I broke it in the first quarter so I was pretty shattered after that.
MD: You got yourself in really good nick at the start of the year and you changed some things about your running style to get better durability and injury prevention. Do you feel like that work has paid off for you?
HB: Yeah, definitely. I haven’t had an incident this year with my hamstrings which is good. I also feel it has made me a bit quicker and my endurance has grown a bit as well. I am not trying as hard to run it seems to just be more natural. I think it has worked. Jason Weber worked with me for about three weeks after the season last year. I got a bit stronger in certain muscles in my legs and the technique he put me into is really working for me at the moment.
MD: Now that you have established yourself in the leadership group, do you see a situation where you could be captain of Fremantle?
HB: I haven’t really thought about it. Probably not. It would be amazing if I was but I would never really consider myself as a captain. I am always there to support my captain whoever that might be.
MD: How are you feeling in the lead in to Melbourne?
HB: We played well on the weekend but that means nothing if we don’t bring the same effort and intensity we brought last weekend to this game. They have improved a lot since the last time we played them. All of their stats have gone up. They are still a dangerous side. There is no such thing as an easy game.
MD: It is a good test for your mental focus isn’t it because there are going to be a lot of things going on outside of the fence?
HB: Yeah definitely and Ross addressed that, stay focussed on Melbourne this week and everything else can deal with itself later on.