Lions in focus: Jacob Ballard

By Mathew Asciak

Due to the pandemic, Jacob Ballard is yet to have his debut for Coburg, which has “reinvigorated the hunger” to compete once the season begins in April. 

Growing up in Warrandyte, Ballard began playing football at 5 or 6 years old, getting his first taste of competitive football in the under-8’s for the Warrandyte Football Club.

He credits his parents as being big influences in chasing his footballing dream. “Yeah, probably Mum and Dad supporting me growing up.” Ballard said. Supporting St.Kilda growing up, Ballard also took inspiration from some of their club champions from recent times such as Nick Riewoldt, Lenny Hayes and Brendon Goddard, just to name a few. 

In 2012, prior to entering the VFL system, Ballard represented the Northern Knights in the TAC Cup, where he had an exceptional season, finishing runner-up in the Best and Fairest.  He then secured a spot in the Vic Metro side in the  U/18 championships.  His 2013 season with the Northern Blues was cut short, after sustaining an injury in the pre-season, only managing to play five games. 

Ballard wasn’t the only sibling in his family to represent the Northern Knights as his younger brother Zachary Ballard played alongside him during the 2012 season.  In 2015, the younger Ballard won the best first year player award for the Northern Blues. 

Speaking about when he began considering pursuing football as a career, Ballard said, “every kid that puts on a pair of boots probably has the ambition or the dream to play footy as a career one day.”  In 2014, that dream became reality, as Ballard was picked up by Fremantle as the 47th pick of the AFL Rookie draft. He would have his opportunity at AFL level, debuting in round 23 against Port Adelaide in 2015. 

Ballard made the most of his time at Peel Thunder, averaging 25 touches a game, helping the Thunder make a finals appearance. Despite the exit in the semi-finals, Ballard was rewarded for his exceptional play, with the Tuckey Medal – the best and fairest award for the Peel Thunder.

Ballard prides himself on being a leader for the club and his teammates, on and off the field.  When asked about his key learnings and advice he could pass on, he highlighted two things. “The biggest learning I’ll probably say is that you’ve got to work hard to get anywhere… and alongside that is just self-belief and just actually believing in your own ability.”

After spending four years with the Richmond VFL, Ballard signed for Coburg in 2020. He believed Coburg was “heading in the right direction and found it really exciting.”

“I decided I wanted to give a standalone team a run, so I met with a few of them and Coburg was the one that I found most attractive and was the best fit.”  Ballard said.

Outside of football commitments, Ballard is currently working full time, after completing his studies last year.  “(I am) now working full time at a stock broking firm, as a research analyst… and I am really passionate about that. When I am not playing footy, trading or working out I am probably reading financial statements and researching new stock ideas.”

Sporting organisations around the world have been forced to make major changes to how they prepare and present the season for players and fans.  Matches are being relocated, postponed and teams have had to adapt to training via Zoom, interstate hubs or in smaller groups.  For Ballard, his preparation has not changed too much.  His hunger and desire to compete are his primary focuses in preparing for this season.

“Watching the AFL, watching guys compete…  in physical competition at the highest level and not being able to do that myself, it just really made my desire to go out there and to be able to do that again… to clash and just to hit bodies and really compete in competitive sport.” 

Much like his AFL idols growing up, Ballard has incredible leadership qualities, on and off the field.  “(My) personal goal is just to continue to drive the team for success, to be a leader, to teach and to fast track the development of our young players.”