Irreplaceable Ballantyne back
Throughout this season’s injury crisis, Fremantle has had players such as ruckman Jon Griffin capable of stepping in and filling a void, but the club has had no obvious replacement for goalsneak Hayden Ballantyne.
The nippy small forward, who kicked 33 goals in 19 games last season, has missed three games this year with two separate hamstring injuries, and his absence has left a definite hole.
He returned against Gold Coast on Saturday, however, after a two-week spell, and played a big role in turning a sluggish first half for his team into a dominant finish.
The 23-year-old kicked back-to-back goals early in the third quarter, giving Fremantle a lead it would never relinquish, and he finished a solid return by booting the last goal of the game.
Fremantle, which was three points behind at the main break, booted 10 goals to two after half time and Ballantyne said a change in mindset was responsible for the turnaround.
“We stopped waiting for someone else to win the game. We actually went in there and won the hard ball,” he said.
“It was good to finish off with a few goals too. We haven’t been too accurate lately and today we were.
“In the first half we weren’t getting the hard ball, we weren’t converting when we were going inside 50, and it really hurt us.”
As well as Ballantyne, utility Tendai Mzungu (three goals) and key defender Antoni Grover returned against the Suns, with Fremantle escaping unscathed for the first time in more than a month.
Griffin again replaced the injured Sandilands and finished with 30 hit-outs, 26 possessions and two goals to be his side’s best player, while defender Greg Broughton (32 possessions) is proving to be an influential player up the ground.
Coach Mark Harvey’s side is still missing clearances specialist David Mundy, who remains six weeks away from returning, but Ballantyne said the team had never used injuries as an excuse for poor performance.
“It is hard when we’ve got our best players out, but we try not to use that as an excuse,” he said. “We put a team out there, we’re out there to win, and if we don’t it’s not good enough.”
Ballantyne had an interrupted summer preparation as he recovered from a foot injury, and he said that had contributed to the two hamstring injuries that have stifled his season.
Harvey praised his valuable small forward after Saturday’s match, but said the club would have to manage him to make sure he didn’t suffer any more setbacks as Fremantle looks to secure a finals berth.
“His intent is like a little Tasmanian devil,” the coach said. “He’s at everything. But that’s the way you play, irrespective of whether you’re five-foot eight or six-foot eight.
“What we’ve got to be able to do is contain him and make sure there’s no recurrence of [the hamstring injuries].”