FORMER Fremantle Dockers goalsneak Hayden Ballantyne, now enjoying his work in the State’s livestock industry, was good for a bit of lip in his AFL career and he is stoking the rivalry with past West Coast Eagles champion Matt Priddis for one of the most anticipated WA Country Football League (WACFL) matches this season – all under the umbrella of regional men’s health.
Both are preparing to go head-to-head when the Brookton Pingelly Panthers meet the Williams Cats in the Upper Great Southern Football League at Williams Town Oval on Saturday, June 19 during the WACFL’s ‘Talk to a Mate Men’s Wellbeing Round’.
The match is being promoted and supported by Westcoast Wool & Livestock, where Hayden is today honing his skills, in conjunction with The Regional Men’s Health Initiative, which has sponsored the State-wide round for the past seven years. This season’s special round also coincides with the internationally celebrated ‘Men’s Health Week’, which focuses on connecting with family, mates, cultures, in the workplace and with health services.
In WA, males are most over-represented in suicide, cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart and lung diseases, and stroke. A whopping 77% are overweight and more than 30% exceed alcohol consumption guidelines. Terry Melrose, Senior Community Educator with The Regional Men’s Health Initiative, which delivers community education and awareness programs on men’s holistic wellbeing and health, said these figures were further exacerbated in rural and regional areas.
He said most males had experienced a mental health impact or some form of situational distress throughout their lives. “Country people also have a huge capacity to cope with season variability and unknowns, but fires, floods, the pandemic effect and other adversity can be like a dam wall issue – and blokes have a propensity to self-medicate,’’ Terry said.
The Regional Men’s Health Initiative attends 250-300 community events a year, ranging from Men’s Shed gatherings to farming industry field days, to deliver its education and ‘Pit Stop’ wellbeing and health awareness sessions. Terry said while the pandemic hampered activities last year, there had been a steady increase in the number of events and demand for its services, in line with its regional expansion.
He said the ‘Talk to a Mate Men’s Wellbeing Round’ in the WACFL was amplified this year due to the challenging impact of the pandemic on community events and The Regional Men’s Health Initiative was planning a major presence at the June 19 clash in conjunction with Westcoast Wool & Livestock. “Our Chairman Ross Ditchburn also is an ex-AFL (VFL) player and prostate cancer survivor, and we have great links with the Westcoast Wool & Livestock team.’’
In addition to its ‘Talk to a Mate!’ ute display, The Regional Men’s Health Initiative team will be on-hand to discuss its men’s health programs, products and resources, as well as to engage with spectators, players and officials.
The Westcoast Wool & Livestock team will be involved in further activities at the event to help raise funds for men’s health. Director and Wool Manager Brad Faithfull, who played junior footy for Pingelly, said the company actively promoted men’s and mental health awareness in WA’s regional areas and would look to continue extending this message throughout the country.
He said it was good to see the rivalry building for the match and, as is tradition, it would be equally as good to recognise the players standing side-by-side after the game and talking with each other. “That’s what ‘Talk to a Mate’ is all about,’’ Brad said.
While he is playing out most of the season with the Pinjarra Tigers this year, Hayden is keen to support the match and join the Panthers. “It’s for a great cause. I’m often in that area, I see a lot of people in regional areas and men’s and mental health is a front-of-mind focus for our industry,’’ said Hayden, who also is emerging as a successful thoroughbred trainer, notching multiple wins with Mankind and Sentimental Queen.
Hayden and Matt have grown up playing football together in the WAFL, both claiming Sandover medals, and, of course, Hayden is also looking forward to the contest. “If I’m playing on Matty Priddis, he’s pretty slow, so I won’t have to get out of third gear. If I’m playing forward, I might have to go up into the midfield and annoy him. The problem is he’s just too nice of a guy to get stuck into.’’
Hayden also reflected that had the Dockers won against Hawthorn in the 2015 Preliminary Final, they would have been confident in a grand final against the Eagles after finishing on top of the AFL ladder and winning both Derbies during the season.
Matt retorted that “little Ballas’’ should re-check the result of the second Derby in 2015 and he was typically being over-confident of a potential grand final victory considering Matthew Pavlich had a calf injury and Nathan Fyfe was nursing a broken leg at the time. He expected Hayden would be lucky to be fit for the opening bounce of the WACFL’s ‘Talk to a Mate Men’s Wellbeing Round’ given his track record for being ruled out with injury.
Matt has a strong interest and is playing an active role in the WA agricultural industry as a finance broker with In Front Australian Business Solutions, where he also supports the State’s transport, civil and construction sectors. After a three-year break from footy, he is enjoying playing with the Cats alongside his younger brother, Ben, for the first time, as well as brothers-in-law, Simon and Nick Panizza. His sister farming at Williams, Jess Panizza, also is due to have a baby this year.
Matt previously played a game for Lake Grace-Pingrup in the Ongerup Football Association’s annual big freeze match against Boxwood Hill to help raise funds for motor neurone disease research. “Footy is the ultimate team game and it’s all about your mates, getting together at training, playing hard footy and then both clubs mingling and socialising afterwards,’’ he said.
Hayden played 171 AFL games, won goal of the year in 2011, an All-Australian guernsey in 2014 and played in the International Rules team in 2015, while Matt played 240 games for the Eagles, won the AFL Brownlow and John Worsfold medals and was an All-Australian in 2015.