WHEN Hayden Ballantyne steps onto TIO Oval in Darwin for Fremantle's match against Melbourne on Saturday night, he'll become a member of an exclusive club. 

The Dockers' goalsneak will become just the third Sandover medallist to go on to play 100 AFL games after winning the WAFL's best and fairest since the VFL expanded in 1986. 

Mark Bairstow played 146 matches for Geelong after winning the 1986 Sandover, while Matt Priddis won the medal in 2006 and has played 165 matches for West Coast to date.   

Only three other players have played more than 50 games; David Bain (98 for the Brisbane Bears and Fitzroy), Craig Treleven (78 for Hawthorn) and Steve Malaxos (75 for Hawthorn). 

Ryan Turnbull, Anthony Jones and Andrew Krakouer all had lengthy AFL careers before winning their Sandover medal, with Krakouer the only one of the three to play in the AFL after the achievement. 

Ballantyne, who was drafted at the end of the 2008 after he won the Sandover for Peel Thunder as a 21-year-old, does not think the award was the sole reason he got picked up. 

"I suppose that was another little feather there, winning the Sandover," Ballantyne said. 

"But I think there's a lot of work that happened before the Sandover as well, so hopefully I was recognised before the Sandover happened."

The small forward said it was work rate and hunger that helped him kick 75 goals in the WAFL that season.  
However, Ballantyne believes playing WAFL football and working a full-time job before getting drafted gave him a greater appreciation of how fortunate he is. 

"It made me realise how lucky I am to be an AFL footballer," Ballantyne said. 

"I was a boilermaker/welder for three years, and that wasn't a lot of fun working in the workshops. But now I'm playing football for a job and getting paid to do it, so I'm loving my job and loving playing footy at the moment."

The SANFL's best and fairest winners have faired better than the WAFL's since 1986. Eight Magarey medallists have played 100-plus AFL games including Tony McGuinness, John Platten, Greg Anderson, Andrew Jarman, Gilbert McAdam, Nathan Buckley, Josh Francou and Brett Ebert. 

Fremantle coach Ross Lyon felt the state leagues had been 'mined extensively' by AFL recruiters despite the relatively low number of Sandover and Magarey medallists progressing to lengthy careers. 

Lyon believes the journey via the state leagues makes players appreciate their opportunities.

"The harder path certainly stands them in good stead for the challenges of league football," Lyon said. 

"It's a really challenging environment, to do it the hard way, they haven't had the luxury of just being drafted and being feted and all those things.

"They tend to have really worked through some significant challenges and those traits have built in them, and they continue to shine through their work ethic."