Serial Pest or clever combatant?

Sunday morning, while listening to a favorite radio sports program, I heard the question posed … “what does he actually do that’s so wrong?”

The question was being posed in reference to the eventful Saturday night meeting of reigning premiers Geelong and the perceived lesser of the western lights, Fremantle.

The ‘he’ in question is Hayden Ballantyne – referred to as the ‘March Fly’ by several commentators and as something quite unprintable by his current and former opponents.

Ballantyne seemed to be at the root of several niggling incidents throughout the game involving various Cats’ players which resulted in 50m penalties, free kicks and finally a report on the usually unflappable Matthew Scarlett. Scarlett had clearly had enough of whatever Ballantyne was dishing out and ‘allegedly’ hit him in the face with a left hook.

I use the term ‘allegedly’ because that’s the responsible thing to do when writing about an incident that has yet to be adjudicated on by the relevant authority. Although anyone who watched the game and saw the incident could quite factually note down the actions that took place and still be writing the same words as above  without the ‘allegedly’.

The interesting angle was the theme from commentators – especially former players – who not only understood completely the possible motivation behind Scarlett’s action but almost applauded it and certainly seemed to condone it with the obvious politically correct qualifications.

Hayden Ballantyne has a reputation for being a ‘serial pest’ onfield. He has apparently reached the lofty heights of being compared to St Kilda’s Stephen Milne who is to-date held up as the League’s primo serial pest. Yet both these players have been elevated to All Australian status for their abitlities and talent.

So is this form of mind game, which is ultimately all it is, a legitimate tactic by players to distract and unsettle opponents?

Was it simply a case that Geelong players did not stand firm against such party-tricks? Did they let Ballantyne do what he apparently does best and get under their skin resulting in disruption not only to the actual game but to the flow of Geelong’s play?

Is this psychological warfare only a part of the modern game – it’s hard to imagine a Hayden Ballantyne would have survived with anything less than a broken jaw against the likes of ‘Lethal’ Leigh Matthews in the late 70s!

What we do definitely know is that the Scarlett report will be ruled on, Ballantyne will continue with his ‘modus operandi’ and the season will roll on. Whether teams will take Ballantyne’s methods as a serious tactic to be expected and which must be looked at more closely and negated through tactical planning will become clearer as the season progresses.

What we can count on is that Ballantyne will not change his methods and most would  say – perhaps begrudgingly – why should he!

by Jill Scanlon

About Jill Scanlon

Blues fan and sports lover. Development through sports advocate; producer, journalist and news follower. Insanely have returned to p/t study - a Masters of International & Community Development. Formerly with ABC International / Radio Australia in Melbourne.


  1. John Butler says

    Jill, I find it most unfair that all these midget forwards keep harassing The Greatness so unfairly. First Milne, then Ballantyne.

    Why don’t they pick on someone their own size?

  2. Apparently he doesn’t do it against Richmond any more.

    I have seen the footage of him being carted semi conscious from the ground.

    He surely must be under the AFL’s scrutiny now. Unless of course it has been decided that it is time that Freo won the flag.

    Perhaps Freo. could bring Stanton back.

  3. Ballantyne might be better suited to soccer – breathe on him and he falls down holding his head.

  4. I detest Ballantyne and Milne (and I would have detested Phil Matera if he had played for someone else). But I do think that Ballantyne has raised it to a new level. Only 2 sane responses – video evidence (quite probably this week) will deal with his overt actions. Ross Lyon will then deal harshly with the team consequences of his taking it beyond the verbal. For opposing teams – take a Bex – forget the machismo – and give him a towelling on the playing field. I don’t think he would cope with a run-with opponent, and the quality of his play warranted it on Saturday night. He can play, as the quality of his lob chip to Pavlich for the second last goal showed. The Cats knew how to tag Milne out of big games. They should have given Ballantyne similar ‘respect’ when he started so well.

  5. I agree Peter B. The other teams will have to deal with him on the ground .. I think Geelong just forgot to plan for him. He is however as you say a very good player and shod be credited for that. I think another factor in dealing with him that shouldn’t be overlooked is the umpires. Even yesterday one of the central umpires could be heard giving him a final warning about exactly what Jen pointed out … His diving or overplaying the physicality of some contests. So he needs to understand that even the umpires are aware of him and all his tactics.

  6. Exactly Jill that’s exactly what I was about to say in regards to the umpires.

    The central umpire could clearly be heard at the start of the fourth quarter saying, “Hayden, do that again and I’ll award a free against you,” so it seems they’re finally onto the cheeky little bugger.

    We don’t need another Milne that’s for sure.

  7. Ballentyne is just not cricket. There’s some things shouldn’t be a part of the game. Pinching your opponents and making an ass of yourself to incite the opposition is one of them. Give them a bump and get on with the game. Ballentyne’s a dirty little rat who’s very lucky Scarlett pulled the punch.

  8. Richard Naco says

    The overwhelming resentment against him from the league’s players that have arisen since Saturday seem to be a fair indication that – when he returns from his own inevitable MRC imposed sabbatical – it will only be a matter of time till what goes around will come around and he’ll be hospitalised.

    He may be effective and he obviously has a good set of skills, but he’s also the polar opposite of a true champion. I would not want my son to grow up to be like him.

    That being said, Geelong’s inability to shrug off his pinpricks reflected badly on us as well.

  9. Pamela Sherpa says

    What’s all this softly softly ‘warning’ stuff from the umpires? Just ping players each time they infringe. Then we wouldn’t have to put up with all the nonsense and could get on with watching the actual football.

  10. Scarlett was dumb to hit him. Very dumb. As soon as the left hook landed Ballantyne had won.

    I don’t have a problem with how Ballantyne plays. Unlike Milne, he doesn’t whinge when he cops one back.

  11. It was not Stephen Milne who I thought of in comparision with HB, but Steven Baker. Several seasons ago SB got the better of Stevie Johnson who received a 3 week “holiday” for snapping. At the time I thought ..”whatever you get for doing will be worth it” S Baker of course received a much longer holiday and proceeded into obscurity in his career. HB may go the same way as the level of scrutiny on his “style” increases

  12. Josh Lyons says

    Hi Jill.

    As a long-time Cats supporter I was very disappointed when senior Geelong players were sucked-in. If the Cats players did not fall for his little tricks perhaps the story would be about Ballantyne’s clanger and shank-fest, as he seemed to butcher the ball in a fashion that hasn’t been witnessed since S. McManus graced the field.

    I believe that the Cats players probably believe that due to their success they deserve respect. But, this is footy, and if they think the Ballantynes of the AFL are going to bend the knee and ask for an autograph, well, back to the rookie list for them.

  13. You play against Frodo you know that he’ll niggle. Why oh why does everyone keep getting sucked in?
    If the hit on Chapman is proven then he’ll get weeks anyway, but he’s hardly serial cheap shot merchant Steven Baker.

    For a player with Scarlett’s experience it was incredibly dumb.

  14. As much as I detest the tactics of Ballantyne, he is not on is Pat Malone in employing them. There are are a few players of a particular team who come to mind: those who deliberately inflict a knee to the head of a player going for the ball, or hit a player off the ball; who pride themselves on toughness and are lauded for this “culture” in the press.
    These incidents occur regularly – by the same player, or the same group of players – and indicate that they are either directed to do so by their coach, or their actions are conveniently ignored by their coach, in a passive aggressive approval of them, and the MRP operates like a kangaroo court in response.
    Such behaviour is neither manly nor brave. On the field or off.

  15. Name names Jen.

    I recall there was more than just Stevie J’s dodgy knee in last year’s GF..

    Pamela, I agree. Why the warnings?

    PeterB, also agree. The best way to beat someone like Ballantyne is to show him that you (or your team) can play better football. Walk off the field, shake his hand and smile.

    That said, a well placed sledge or two wouldn’t go astray.

    “Congratulations on the win, Hayden. Oh by the way I passed on your postal address to Vossy cause I didn’t see you at the Triple premiership luncheon.”

    I’m sure Mackie could come up with something sharp.

  16. Andrew Weiss says

    Very interesting discusion Jill. In the end Ballantyne probably won them the game and therefore did the job Fremantle wanted him to do. The only problem with Balleantyne is that his niggle of opponents somtimes takes over the skill he quite often has.

    In the 2004 Grand final Byron Pickett was given best on ground but being a Lions supporter I beleive it was Damien Hardwick that won the game and the premiership for Port. His consistant niggling, in your face antagonistic behaviour put many of the Lions players off their game and cause them to fight Hardwick rather than going for the footy and in the end was one of the causes for them losing the game and the premiership.

    I don’t think what Ballentyne did on Saturday night (which many players from many teams also do) is really in the spirit of the game but if he was in my team and his actions enabled the team I supported to win the game or in fact the premiership then I am sure there would be no complaints.

    Interesting if any Freo supporters have an opinion on this.

  17. I think Hayden is lovely.

  18. I think he is on borrowed time.

  19. pamela sherpa says

    As usual a double standard operates in football. Why is verbal abuse allowed to go on and on whilst physical abuse is heavily penalised?

  20. I don’t think verbal abuse is tolerated much either. A sledge is a sledge but anything that could be deemed racist or similar will bring a suspension and a heavy fine. Football is a physical game. A bump or two off the ball to make your presence felt is one thing. A punch or running through someone from behind is another and Ballentyne is getting off very light for his strike on Chapman.

  21. Just saw a replay of the Scarlett hit.

    Not smart, bad temper but good shot.

    ‘Oh me darling Ballentyne looked lost and gone for ever’ as he lay on the ground with all the niggle out of him.

    I don’t think he will be giving such invitations out as freely in future. Little man syndrome has its drawbacks it seems.

    The comments from players from other clubs are salient.

  22. Rick Kane says

    So Phantom, am I to presume your position to be: Ballantyne hits Chapman equals bad; Scarlett hits Ballantyne equals good. Noice. Any more biased and you’d be spinning free of this world. Scarlett cost your team a frickin goal, potentially a win and is out for the next three. Surely your allegiance is to your team more than to the actions of a single player. Surely you can drop your guard enough to say more about Scarlett’s action than merely, “not smart”. Cheers

  23. Skip of Skipton says

    I’m not a nanny-statist type of person, I hope, but the League need to establish a ‘serial pest’ register. If you are on the ‘serial pest’ register, and someone gets rubbed out for three weeks for punching you, you get three weeks also. When I was in the Army, some time ago, they had a similar method of justice. Remember Terry Wheeler in the ’70s, David Rhys-Jones in the ’80s? Blokes were always getting rubbed out for belting them. Wheeler was known as the ‘squirrel’.

  24. Ed, if any team or particular players come to mind from my comment, then let that be your indicator.
    Ballantyne was lucky to get only two weeks.
    We, the supporting public, are not so lucky in witnessing AD face the media and smile and simply count the publicity biccies that he – as puppet for the media interests who own the game – is happy to pop into his mouth. He could have made a strong and responsible statement, but didn’t. He may as well have been speaking of carbon tax.
    Thankyou, Jill for your article. It has inspired some interesting comments. In the end it comes down to what we settle for as being acceptable. Gamesmanship is one thing and “niggling” could be included as such. But the playing field is a hard an physical enough work place when the game is played in the right spirit, and is not improved through giving gutless tactics (such as hitting a player off the ball etc.) sanctity. Yes, Ballantyn go his two weeks. The smile on his coach’s face, however, suggested his team employed the tactics he instructed them to use – as if he believed they couldn’t win any other way.

  25. Skip of Skipton says

    Rick, I concur with Phantom. My 87 year old mother phoned me yesterday just to tell me that Scarlo was justified and righteous in his actions. Hurting Chappy = bad. She is renowned amongst family and friends for having a good ‘eye’ for people. Ballantyne doesn’t please her. Apparently Guthrie is going to be a gun. I questioned her in regards to that, thinking she may have meant Smedts. No. Definitely Guthrie. “Who’s Smedts?” etc.

  26. All very well. But I note that not one of you wordy types has been able to counter my argument that Hayden is lovely. Case closed.

  27. Basso Divor says

    Ballantyne must have changed his style in recent times. How many of you were aware he won the 2008 Sandover Medal? I wouldn’t think he’d have received many votes from WAFL umps based Saturday night’s display.

  28. Can’t have it both ways, IMO. If “niggling” is condoned, then you can’t fault a player for pushing it to the limit. Nor should that player complain about the consequences. Or, for that matter, the “niggled” player who decides to combat it in whatever way and faces other consequences. And I’d be willing to bet that Ross Lyon not only condoned but encouraged Ballantyne’s actions. If everyone agrees that “niggling” to this extreme is unsporting and doesn’t belong in footy, then it should be banned. But it’s not. And the players know this. So they should be smarter in how they deal with it. Matthew Scarlett should have known better — unless he did what he did on purpose, too, to send a message. All part of the game.

  29. Don’t you read Les?

    What’s your address? My good mate Murph is over in Freo at the moment visiting his son. I will send him round to have a chat wiv yous.

    (Good win and it vindicates my statement the Freo will finish in the top 4)

  30. Rick,

    read what is said, carefully. I said it was a good shot. (accurate). It was not behind play like that hit on Brunsby the greates footballer of all.

    Ballantyne was requesting it (lip read). And he did look funny as he took to the turf as quickly as my neighbor’s Juck Russell terrier when I drove the boot into it after it had bitten my pregnant wife for the third time in two days about twenty five years ago.

    Scarlett should know better but he was probably thinking about Easter Monday and quaking in his boots about those all star Hawks and had hatched a clever plan to ensure that he could hide in the grandstand.

    In order to grasp the Easter spirit do you think we should have a modest egg this game rather than a Freddo. It’s all academic to me, I never see my winnings.

  31. Glenn B: your comment, “…I’d be willing to bet that Ross Lyon not only condoned but encouraged Ballantyne’s actions,” underscores my earlier statement – that when a coach instructs his team to employ such tactics, it’s “…as if he believed they couldn’t win any other way.”

  32. The Freo rat who polaxed an unsuspecting Cameron Ling a few years ago ran straight from the bench to his target away from the play.

    I think the Cats won a flag that year as well.

  33. Dean Soloman. I was thinking about Lingy doing his interviews over there on saturday night. It wonder what you’d make of all that hoo ha remembering “niggling” put a metal plate in his face.

  34. He said he was sorry Ed. And it was a Geelong player who needed cutting down to size: nudge, nudge, wink ,wink.

    Actually it wasn’t niggling on C Ling.It was un provoked assault.

  35. Jen perhaps the smile on Ross Lyons face had more to do with the fact this his new side had beaten the premiers in a tight one rather than his niggle tactics worked. We should also remember that reports went Geelong 3 Fremantle 1.

    Frodo was a niggler prior to this year, as was Steven Baker before Ross Lyon went to St Kilda. It’s got little to do with the coach and everything to do with Hayden Ballantyne.

  36. Phantom. That was an Essendon rat

  37. They must spread around the country as quickly as cane toads Les.

  38. Rick Kane says

    Mr Phantom, Sir

    You may not have seen your winnings but you can rest assured they are waiting, gathering in a pile, for you. Wait a minute. On a couple of occasions you expressly asked that I pass them on to my son, sadly a Cats fan. Which I allegedly did. Also, while In Tasmania for work last year I spoke to Dale Perry, one of our Devonport site staff. He said he knew you through local footy. I gave him several Freedos and asked him to deliver the spoils to you directly.

    While I long for the day when I can proudly say that I have finally won a metaphorical Freedo from you good sir, I am attempting to ensure what is owed you is delivered to the victor.

    Cheers and yes, let’s have a bunny wager on Monday’s game.

  39. Rick Kane says

    Mr Phantom, Sir

    When you ask me to read what is said ‘carefully’ I have reason to believe what you are actually asking me to do is read denotatively even though I have an even greater reason to believe that when you first cast the words you were allowing them to be interpreted connotatively.

    Your humble reader, cheers

  40. Jonathan, all I’ll say is that considering what a control and detail freak Ross Lyon is, it’s logical to assume he has control over how his players behave. And players know how far they are allowed to go. Sure Ballantyne and Steven Baker had reputaions beforehand. But a good coach knows how to use his resources, and if those resources include a “serial pest” who can undermine another team’s composure, he’ll employ him the best way he can.

  41. Rick,

    I was talking to ‘Ned’ recently. He did not mention Freddo Frog once. He did mention that he was trying to work out how to beat the Wynyard Cats this year.

    I trust he spoke kindly of me.

    Next time you are over here you must let me know.


  42. LEE DONOVAN says

    get over it Jen. He has been doing it for years but it is obviously not racial or sexual or any of the taboo subjects so what is it he is saying. Players that respond are stupid and he often has kicks reversed in his favour.You don’t mention that he was in the best 3 or 4 on the ground and continually chopped you up. To the other goose who compared him to McManus what game were you at. A visit to the eye specialist seems in order.
    I am reading a lot of sour grapes on this game

  43. Jonathan and Lee (could be the one person, if only life and footy were always poetic). Missing the point, boyos. Players do what the coach says or else they are dropped from the team.
    Thankyou, Glenn B for understanding this.
    A further point ( “…racial, sexual, or any of the taboo subjects…” Lee) would include, I think, being so gutless and unsporting as to hit someone who is off the ball. Again, I reiterate, Ballantyne is not the only one to employ such tactics with the support of his coach. How about you get over, Lee, what appears to be your small faith in Freo – a team whose ethos (or lack of) suggests that they felt they couldn’t win any other way.

  44. Glenn and Jen, there are coaches instructions and there are moments that he can’t control. Players act instinctively.

    Hayden Ballantyne (HB) and Steven Baker were nigglers before Lyon. While Baker could have been said to employ such niggling tactics as the MAIN part of his armoury especially in his latter years, Ballantyne is a far more skillled and creative footballer. Lyon would have known niggle was likely and may have encouraged it TO AN EXTENT but to suggest that he instructed HB to whack blokes behind the play is in my opinion, erroneous. Why would he risk one of his most creative and damaging players to suspension when you have the far less talented and significantly bigger Adam Mcphee to perform such tasks if required?

    And Jen, I don’t want to have a slanging match and turn the esteemed Almanac site into a genteel, better written and punctuated version of BIgFooty but some of the vitriol directed HB’s way is getting ridiculous. If you really want to talk gutless and unsporting, ask Brent Guerra about your captain. Hopefully he can hear you.

  45. Jonathan – Ask BG who he’d hit off the ball during that game. And he, Guerra, may have punctured his eardrum minutes, hours days before the incident – one of those things that we’ll never know for sure. Interesting that Selwood, who had never been reported in his entire footy life, copped 4 weeks (extended to 5 because he challenged the slur against his record, and was backed in this by the club) was even cited, when others manage to slip past the keeper.
    That Lyon, as you suggest, may have encouraged Ballantyn “to an extent”, is to say that he encouraged him.
    If you cast you eye over what I have written, my “vitriol” as you put it (I’d say “opinion”), was not aimed only at Ballantyn, but at tactics employed by a team – any team – who will go the biff rather than believing they can win through the quality of their play.
    Some players appear to act ‘instinctively” with alarming regularity.
    P.S. What is Big Footy? Is it something I ought to have read?

  46. Jen, we’ll agree to disagree, I suppose. Like many other Fremantle fans I’m just disappointed that a fantastic victory over the reigning premiers, missing our best midfielder has been completely overshadowed and almost completely ignored because of the actions of one footballer, who has been roundly viliified with the tacit approval of the AFL.

  47. As an Eagles supporter who watched the game, and has a strong dislike of Ballantyne, Lyon and the Dockers in this order – I want to agree with Jonathan. I take no notice of coach’s public statements. They all ‘talk their book’ in public. I think Lyon would be seething about Ballantyne’s lack of discipline. He should have got more than Scarlett for the behind the ball attack on Chapman – and Lyon knows it.
    Ballantyne is a pea-brain airhead with small-man syndrome and a bad case of ‘white line fever’. He has always been like that under all coaches. He is a totally unguided missile, but he is also a very skilful and damaging footballer.
    Lyon is a ruthless pragmatist who wants Ballantyne on the field every game. He may tolerate a bit of verbal, but he will punish Ballantyne more in private than the AFL Tribunal for any current our future punches, elbows, slaps, trips or pinches.

  48. He already plays under Lyon. What more punishment is there?

  49. My mate (Bomber) Murph, who I was going to sic on to Les, arrived back from Freo on Saturday.

    On Sunday he delivered me a Freo casual shirt autographed by one Hayden Ballantyne.

    You all may think we are a little slow over here but we sure know how to take the piss.

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