Two former AFL greats will face-off this month in one of the most anticipated WA Country Football League matches of 2021 — all under the umbrella of regional men’s health.
Fremantle Dockers goalsneak Hayden Ballantyne and West Coast Eagles champion Matt Priddis will run out for the Brookton-Pingelly Panthers and Williams Cats respectively at the Upper Great Southern Football League clash on June 19.
It is part of the WACFL’s Talk to a Mate Men’s Wellbeing Round, and coincides with Men’s Health Week, which focuses on connecting with family, mates and culture, in the workplace and with health services.
The match is being promoted and supported by Westcoast Wool & Livestock, in conjunction with the Regional Men’s Health Initiative, which has sponsored the Statewide round for the past seven years.
In WA, men are most over-represented in suicide, cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart and lung diseases, and stroke. A whopping 77 per cent are overweight and more than 30 per cent exceed alcohol consumption guidelines.
Regional Men’s Health Initiative senior community educator Terry Melrose said those figures were further exacerbated in rural and regional areas. He said most men had experienced a mental health impact or some form of situational distress in 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,” Melrose 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 education, wellbeing and health awareness sessions and a ute display.
Mr Melrose said the importance of the special WACFL round was amplified this year because of the challenging impact of COVID-19 on community events.
Westcoast Wool & Livestock 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.
He said it was good to see the rivalry building for the match and, as was tradition, it would be equally good to see the players standing side-by-side after the game and talking with each other.
“That’s what Talk to a Mate is all about,” Faithfull said.
While he is playing out most of the season with the Pinjarra Tigers this year, Ballantyne — who is emerging as a successful thoroughbred trainer — is keen to support the match.
“It’s for a great cause,” Ballantyne said. “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. 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.”
Priddis — who is playing an active role in the WA agricultural industry as a finance broker with In Front Australian Business Solutions — is flanked by his younger brother, Ben and brothers-in-law Simon and Nick Panizza in the Cats side.
He 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,” Priddis said.
The two stars grew up playing together in the WAFL, each claiming Sandover medals, and are looking forward to the game at Williams Town Oval on June 19.