Over the past couple of seasons, Bailey Dale has threatened to establish himself as a key member of the Western Bulldogs side.
The 24-year-old has the skills to be a match-winner – as his 20 goals in six games at the back-end of 2019 proved to the football world.
With 59 games across six seasons at AFL level, at times Dale has been restricted by injuries and at times he’s battled for continuity in the senior side.
2020 was that sort of year. He played the first seven games before being sidelined with an ankle niggle, came back for two games but was forced out of the best 22 by season’s end.
But a big pre-season and some clear off-season focus areas have the agile goal-kicker primed to make 2021 his year.
“It’s been a different off-season for a lot of people, including myself,” Dale told westernbulldogs.com.au.
“I stayed at home and I’ve been working on the things I needed to work on at the end of last year. There’s a few things I’ve tried to really nail in the off-season.
“I was training with Ben Cavarra and Lachie Hunter for a lot of the off-season which was great. ‘Hunts’ is a pretty good runner, so training with him really helped me work on my fitness.”
The extra kilometres in the legs will – hopefully – give Dale the flexibility to play forward or push onto a wing.
He’s spent time across both roles already in his six years as a Bulldog.
“One of the big things at the end of the year was just getting my fitness back up to a level where I can try to push onto a wing as well and run hard both ways,” Dale said.
“We’ve got a few boys rolling through there at the moment, but that wing-forward role to be able to get up the ground, impact defensively and try to get on the end of a few and involved in the play is what I’ve worked on.
“Then it’s getting the ball in my hands and finishing off my work when I get the chance.
“I’m trying to add those strings to my bow, be as versatile as possible and try to have a good year.”
Off the field, some things have changed for Dale while some have stayed the same.
A year in the hub helped him strengthen relationships with his teammates – and he’s already built a connection with draftee Lachie McNeil, hosting him when he first moved across from South Australia.
He may also be one of good mate Toby McLean’s remaining barber shop customers post hub-life.
“Toby gave me a few haircuts in the hub which weren’t too bad,” Dale said.
“I’ve still got Tobes, he lives around the corner and I think he enjoys doing it.
“He got a lot of the boys up there and made a bit of a killing. He’s lost a few customers since we’ve been back in Melbourne though.”