Western Bulldogs draftee Bailey Smith faced his fair share of public and media criticism in the lead-up to the 2018 AFL draft. After being taken with pick 7 and settling into his new home at the Whitten Oval, Smith spoke with AFLPlayers.com.au about his journey to the AFL, his faith and how he manages the spotlight.
How have you settled into life at the Bulldogs and during your first few weeks in the AFL system?
Yeah, it’s been really easy so far. At the Doggies I haven’t found there to be too many egos and so everyone has been really welcoming and treated me like I have been there for years already. I’ve settled in well and knew a few of the boys there already which helped but they’ve all been so welcoming.
You moved in with Easton Wood for your first couple of weeks at the club, what was that like and what insights did living with someone of his calibre give you?
It was good to see his routine and what he did every day and how he went about it. He also helped me with so much advice. He’d just mention simple things even when we were walking to get a coffee and it’s those things that I still remember too and are things that I should keep in mind. He’s so knowledgeable because he’s been playing for such a long time so I made an effort to feed off him as much as I could — from everything like cooking to how he goes about daily things.
What cooking advice did he give to you?
I’ve learnt a few new recipes off him! We made a really good chicken and mushroom risotto. That was my favourite… I absolutely loved that. We stood there stirring it for about an hour because we were cooking after training for a few of the boys. He’s also helped me with finding balance with food because I was pretty strict on my diet before that. Easton helped me understand that it’s alright to treat yourself, and he treats himself with something he enjoys every day. Just understanding that you don’t have to be so harsh on yourself all the time helps with balance and the ability to sustain your training standards.
You’ve been dreaming about playing AFL since you were young and it’s something that you’ve worked incredibly hard towards. What did it mean when your name was called?
I was holding mum’s hand as hard as I could. My dad, Nick, older brother and younger sister were with me too. I still can’t believe it. I remember thinking two or three months before the draft that going to the Bulldogs would be too good to be true. Honestly, out of every club the Doggies were in my top preferences, and I’m not just saying that because I ended up there. I remember when they called my name out and after I had been on stage I hugged Easton Wood about eight times — I couldn’t stop. It’s still all a bit of a blur because it was such a rush of excitement but I wake up every single day still so grateful and don’t take my opportunity for granted.
For someone who hasn’t played an AFL game yet the spotlight has shone brightly on you — how did you deal with that pressure and the comments coming from people you didn’t know?
It was pretty tough. I copped a flair bit of flak in the media and on comments about how I go about my business but I think the big thing for me was to learn not to read into it. Previously that was something that I had done and that didn’t help. I tried to drown out the footy talk, but in the lead-up to the draft that was really hard because I was counting down the days but I did my best to keep footy talk away from home. I surrounded myself with loved ones and people that I love being around which helped me keep my mind off it but it was still bloody hard to shut it all out when you see your mates and they mention things. It was definitely tough but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Since being drafted, how have you found that external support or pressure change? I imagine you’ve become a fan favourite of the Dogs already!
Yeah, the Bulldogs supporters have been the best. I’ve made an effort to reply to messages from supporters and people because I am just so thankful for every bit of support that I’m getting. Seriously, it’s just been too good. Even the club itself, the fans are so interested in who you are. I definitely am not taking it for granted but also I am thankful for that support.
You also have a unique connection to Nick Coffield. How did you friendship evolve throughout the year from that first text exchange?
Yeah, Coff was really good and was a constant support for me throughout the year. I think one of the big things was that he was really open and genuine in his support and I suppose our friendship grew from there. He’s been there whenever I need him, and the same goes for me to him. He’s been someone who I’ve been able to vent with because he had been through it all the year before. We caught up the day before the draft as well, which was a nice distraction. He’s been someone who I’ve not only been able to distract myself with but also feed off for advice and who I feel really comfortable around.
You found strong religious faith this year which I’ve been told you practice in some interesting ways — at what point did you turn to religion and how do you practice your faith?
I started going to mass at a young age but my family didn’t have a huge interest in it. Obviously my school did but mum and dad couldn’t really care less, same with my brother and sister. For me, it was something that I felt 45 minutes to an hour out of my day on a Sunday wasn’t really that big and so I started attending more frequently in year nine. It’s based on this belief for me that if you have strong roots, there is no reason to fear the wind. For me, going to mass on a Sunday really grounded me. It made me forget about everything for that 45-60 minutes and allowed me to focus on the present and what was happening in that moment. It gives me confidence that whatever is happening to me is happening for a reason and that someone is looking over me. I’m really big on having that faith and knowing that if I do get injured I have to look at the positives — being religious for me really ties into that. It comes back to grounding me and that’s why I go each week. Now that I’ve been drafted I don’t want anything to change about me. I still want to be that grounded person. Religion and faith for me is just something I practice. I wouldn’t call myself a really religious person but I just try and find some things that I can practice in my everyday life which help me.
You spoke briefly about being injured and how your faith assists you with coming to terms with that type of setback. How did that help during your top-age year when you missed a significant amount of football with your achilles injury?
I suppose it was not so much religion helping me there but more my family, the football club in Sandringham and my school, Xavier College. I just had to accept it and control what I could control which was my rehab. If I was lagging in one area then I would focus on another area, like my leadership, and try and take someone under my wing because I was grounded by not being able to play. I’d also try and get the leadership group together before a game to introduce some structure and really test myself in different areas that weren’t physical. I tried to support the boys as best as I could through the finals series, particularly the bottom-age players because we were bottom-age heavy, which will hopefully hold them in good stead for next season. I tried to pump them up as much as I could and fill them with confidence so they have every bit of confidence to take the kick or lay that next tackle.
From what I understand you’re very close to your paternal grandfather and the two of you share a unique relationship. What has that involved?
I love my grandpa. He has driven me to and from training ever since under-13’s. Every single training he has been there with a mug of soup, my Powerade and some biscuits and cheese for after. He just sits there watching. He’s been with me along my journey and been that constant support as well. Everything he has done has been seriously ridiculous and I’m just so grateful for him. He’s taken me everywhere and his support is so important. We’re always talking on the car ride home. I’ve driven my L’s and got my hours with him — he’s been like my second dad and helped me a lot.