A FORTNIGHT ago, Warrandyte’s Jacob Ballard, 19, was doing landscaping jobs and working behind the bar at the Grand Hotel Warrandyte. Then everything changed with a phone call confirming something most young footy players can only dream about: selection in the AFL rookie draft.
First believing his mates were pulling his leg when reading texts on his lunch break, Jacob realised his dream had become a reality after a call to his manager.
Chosen by Fremantle with pick No.47, Ballard, a tall midfielder with excellent stamina and a knack for winning the hard ball, was stunned.
“I’m just over the moon, it’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid. It still hasn’t even sunk in yet,” Jacob told the Diary.
The opportunity is sweeter for Ballard than most, who, unlucky not to be drafted as an 18-year-old after stellar performances playing with the Northern Knights in 2012, used the setback to mature and motivate himself further in his goal of playing professional football.
“To finally get the chance to play AFL footy, at a club like this, I still can’t really believe it,” he said.
Focusing on improving his speed and quickness, Jacob joined Carlton’s VFL side, the Northern Blues, in 2013 and caught the eye of Freo with his tough, in and under style of play.
Only days after the surprise selection, Jacob was flying to Perth and he has already taken the first step in his AFL journey, beginning pre-season training and learning what it takes to be a professional athlete with the Dockers as the club looks to mount another grand final charge.
“I had my first day down at the club on Thursday and my first actual session on Friday,” Jacob said. “Then over the weekend I had the induction
process, and now we are back into regular training with the guys.”
Importantly, Jacob remains grounded, as he realises the shift in commitment and quality needed for AFL.
“Being on the rookie list there’s obviously still a long way to go, I’ll probably be playing a lot of footy in the WAFL side The Peel Thunder, but the goal is to play as well as I can and see what happens,” he said.
In combination with the enormous step up from local to professional footy Ballard must make, he also faces the reality of moving to a completely different state, a significant change for someone so young.
“Perth is really different to Melbourne,” he said. “It’s right on the coast so it feels like a bit of a holiday, its really hot and slightly more old-fashioned.”
However, Jacob hasn’t forgotten his roots, being a part of the Warrandyte community and certainly coming through the ranks at the Warrnadyte Junior Football Club, and the Colts in more recent years.
“In playing for the Bloods I got to take part in three grand finals, we lost the first two which was really tough, but we managed to win the third one which was really fantastic,” he said.
Community support for Jacob throughout his time playing junior and club football for the Northern Knights and Blues respectively has been nothing short of excellent, and the Warrandyte Pub in particular (where Jacob worked part time) has been a keen supporter of the Warrandyte
and Northern footy clubs, and also Jacob himself.
Pub staff were excellent with Jacob, and all chipped in to help him raise over $1000 dollars in the World’s Greatest Shave to aid cancer research.
No longer just a kid with a dream, Ballard has the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of many Fremantle stars who made their name off the rookie list, including Aaron Sandilands, Tendai Mzungu and Michael Barlow, and establish himself as a fully-fledged AFL footballer.
PICTURE: You Bloody ripper: Warrandyte’s Jacob Ballard was rookie listed by Fremantle recently. Inset: Jacob tearing around Warrandyte Reserve as a player for the Warrandyte Junior Football Club.
By MICHAEL DI PETTA
Warrandyte Diary – Issue 2013_12