One of the disappointing aspects of Fremantle’s qualifying final loss to the Swans last Saturday afternoon in Sydney was the broken jaw suffered by livewire small forward Hayden Ballantyne.
After receiving surgery early in the week on his broken jaw, Ballantyne has not yet been ruled out, but is unlikely to play in the Dockers’ sudden death semi-final clash with Port Adelaide on Saturday night.
While in theory the pending loss of Ballantyne is a blow to the Dockers chances, in practice this may not necessarily be the case.
Over the course of Ross Lyon’s tenure as Dockers coach, Ballantyne has become one of the best small forwards in the game, kicking 114 goals in 62 games over the last three seasons. In addition, Ballantyne has laid an impressive 199 tackles, proving his worth as not just a goal kicking forward, but as an impressive defensive forward, a must for teams coached by Lyon.
His form leading up to this years finals campaign, when he was on the park was also outstanding. He booted 33 goals in his last nine matches, interrupted only by missing one game through suspension in round 18, and a hamstring complaint which saw him miss the Dockers 19-point win over the Hawks in round 21.
But here is the crux: Ballantyne, while in ripping form entering the finals, failed to make an impact against the Swans. His jaw injury could excuse this if it was just a one-off, but unfortunately Ballantyne has form in disappointing finals efforts.
Most fans will remember last year’s Grand Final in which Ballantyne just could not get into the action, contributing just 0.2 in the Dockers 15-point loss to the Hawks. That wasn’t a one-off either, in fact, under Ross Lyon, Ballantyne has played in six finals now, contributing a grand tally of just six goals.
Compare these numbers to his home and away stats of 108 goals in 56 games over the same period, and there is a stark difference in Ballantyne’s output when the high intensity of finals football arrives.
The only finals appearance where Ballantyne has had a decent impact was his three-goal effort in Fremantle’s elimination final win over Geelong back in 2012.
Time and time again, despite the solid form Ballantyne has taken into finals footy, he has let himself down.
In 2012, he entered the finals having kicked 10.2 in his last three games. 2013 saw him finish off the home and away season with 13.10 in his last four games but struggled in September, and of course he produced 33 goals in his last nine matches this year before his underwhelming effort against the Swans.
Structurally, Ballantyne in his best form is a huge loss for the Dockers as they attempt to qualify for a preliminary final showdown with the Hawks.
In actuality, the pending loss of Ballantyne, given his output in the pressure cooker of finals footy, may not be such a devastating loss for the Dockers after all.