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Ballantyne walks the line
Ballantyne walks the line

Hayden Ballantyne is determined to walk the fine line which allows him to play the kind of instinctive, heart-on-your-sleeve football that makes him one of the AFL's best small forwards, without getting himself into more tribunal trouble.

Back in form, and just one game away from his first AFL finals series, Ballantyne has revealed how he used mental imagery in a bid to strike the right balance of good, aggressive football without the undisciplined acts which have had him suspended twice this year.

He stressed that he wanted to remain the same player that teammates voted into their leadership group but eliminate the moments which earned him bans for blows on Geelong's Paul Chapman and Richmond's Chris Newman.

"I hope I have stayed the same way because I was voted by the player group as I was," he said.

"I think discipline was something I had to change. A couple of suspensions hurt me a lot and I was filthy on myself but I have made a 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."

He admitted it was a balancing act because he is, by nature, a passionate and instinctive player.

"You are playing on instinct," he said. "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."

Ballantyne has kicked 11 goals in Fremantle's past four games and laid 15 tackles to be one of the form small forwards in the competition.

He said it was the tackles rather than the scores that had pleased him most.

"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," he said. "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."

Coach Ross Lyon recently praised Ballantyne for coming through one of the few flat spots in his football career mid-season. The coach said Ballantyne got a big tick for character because his work rate and intensity had not wavered during the period.

Ballantyne said there were times this year when he felt the ball had always bounced the wrong way, he was running to the wrong spot and opponents had occasionally got on top of him.

But it had been effort that pulled him through it.

"I think I have worked through that and got over it," he said. "I am starting to get more of the ball.

"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. 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."

Ballantyne also paid tribute to fellow small forward Michael Walters, who overcame a significant setback of his own after being banished to Swan Districts for failing to meet club skin-fold thresholds.

Walters, who has kicked 16 goals in seven games since returning, was a significant "in" for Fremantle because of his skill and vision, Ballantyne said.

"When he got sent back to the WAFL he was filthy on himself," he said. "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."

Walters replaced Ballantyne in Fremantle's team for the 2010 finals series after Ballantyne broke a foot in the round-22 clash with Carlton.

He said he was shattered by the injury and remained desperate for finals action. He had done a significant amount of work on his running style at the end of the 2011 season after a series of hamstring problems.

"I haven't had an incident this year with my hamstrings. I also feel it has made me a bit quicker and my endurance has grown a bit as well," Ballantyne said.