Ballantyne hits midfield at top speed
Ruck master Aaron Sandilands says diminutive teammate Hayden Ballantyne has attacked his new midfield role at top speed – and will bring excitement and energy to the Dockers’ engine room this season.
As Sandilands returns from the debilitating toe injury which ruined his season, and played a part in the eventual downfall of former coach Mark Harvey, his successor Ross Lyon has plotted over the summer how to maximise Sandilands’ stoppage dominance.
The AFL’s tallest, and some would argue most important, player has spent the pre-season building the strength in his injured toe, while developing new relationships with installed ruck coach Mark Stone who arrived from Sydney with Lyon.
And it appears the 211cm ruckman will have a new mosquito buzzing around his feet in 2012, with Ballantyne unveiling his new central role in the first round of the NAB Cup.
“He is a very exciting player, and he hits the contest at 100 miles and hour – and gets the boys going,” Sandilands said.
“He will spend a fair bit of time there over the year, and has spent a fair bit of time in there over the summer. He will be able to play some really good football in the midfield.”
Sandilands’ return to full fitness will be a massive boost to the Dockers’ chances of reclaiming a place in the AFL finals, having played just 13 games – six of those wins – in 2011.
The turf toe injury, which was originally slated to keep the monster ruckman out for four weeks, recurred when he was rushed back in an attempt to revive the Dockers’ floundering campaign in Round 14 last year.
Sandilands has admitted even though he played the last four games of the home and away season, it has taken him much of the pre-season to build up his confidence the injury is completely healed.
“It was unfortunate I hurt my toe last year and did the tendons and ligaments underneath my foot, came back and reinjured it,” Sandilands told radio 3AW.
“It took a fair bit of that break and over the summer getting that strong again, and it is back to 100 per cent.
“We did consider that (an operation) and rest was the best option, so touch wood we should have no more issues with it.
“It has been given the 100 per cent tick and there are no issues with it at all.”
Now with his fitness restored, Sandilands has been tasked with mastering Lyon’s stoppage structures, which appeared to be progressing well in the opening NAB Cup clashes with Essendon and West Coast.
“A lot of changes did happen, and it did come as a bit of a shock to the playing group (to lose Harvey). We have moved forward, and we have got a great coach with us,” Sandilands said.
“We have been flat out learning the way he wants to play, and it has been very exciting – we are really enjoying the structure Ross has brought to the club.
“He has made a few little tweaks to the way he wants us to play, and he is all about us being fit and available
“Now that we are playing games and we can improve the way we set up.”