Bailey Banfield celebrates a goal during Walyalup's clash against Collingwood in round 11, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

LIFE on the fringe of selection for Fremantle forward Bailey Banfield was a stressful time as he calculated his chances of playing each week, looked at where the openings in the team might be, and then searched for distractions when he knew the match committee was meeting.

Never secure as a best 22 player through his first six seasons, it became a familiar process and feeling that he describes as "not knowing each week whether you're going to be fired or not".

But finally, the anxiety in Banfield's football has eased in 2024. The 26-year-old is established in the Dockers' best team and playing a crucial role as a crafty and reliable high-forward who can rotate on the wing.

Consistent selection has fuelled confidence for the former run-with midfielder, and he has averaged career-high disposals (14.6), goals (1.3) and marks (3.9) without the burden of week-to-week uncertainty.

"It's probably the first time in my career that I've been a best 22 member and really solid and secure in the squad every week, which has helped take a lot of anxiety out of footy for me," Banfield told this week.

"Footy is a tough industry and it's by no means stress-free, but there's been an element of that taken out, which has been really nice … and you're just a bit more comfortable in your own head space.

Sam Switkowski and Bailey Banfield celebrate a goal during the match between Walyalup (Fremantle) and Collingwood at Optus Stadium in round 11, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"When you've got that underlying stress, you feel tense and a bit of a weight on your shoulders, and sometimes you don't even realise it's there until after the season when you relax and your shoulders come down."

Banfield spent 2022 as a regular medical substitute, starting in the role 10 times and either coming on late in games or not at all, as was the case in the Dockers' two finals. He was in and out of the team through 2023, playing 14 games.

On gameday he could put the stress of week-to-week selection aside, but the "over-thinking" would start immediately after the final siren.

"You're analysing your form and comparing it to other people's or figuring out who's coming back from injury and how far away they are," Banfield said.

Bailey Banfield kicks for goal during the R10 match between Euro-Yroke (St Kilda) and Walyalup (Fremantle) at Marvel Stadium on May 18, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"And then around selection time on the Wednesday/Thursday, that was always a period of time when you're waiting for that decision to get made and you know the coaches are in their meetings or they're letting people know.

"Your heart rate is elevated, and you're looking for distractions, because you just become fixated on, 'What am I doing this week?'"

The change in Banfield's mindset this season was evident after the Dockers' round six Derby loss. Excelling as a high-forward and wingman through the first five rounds, he kicked an atypical 0.4 as his usual reliable kicking boots deserted him.

Rather than panic about selection, he was able to focus on addressing the issue at training and has gone on to kick 11.3 in the seven games since, including an equal team-high 3.0 against the Western Bulldogs last Saturday.

Hayden Young and Nat Fyfe celebrate a goal with Bailey Banfield during the R7 match between Fremantle and Western Bulldogs at Optus Stadium on April 27, 2024. Picture: AFL Photos

"When you're playing with confidence and you're backing yourself in, sometimes that can be the last couple of per cent that can tip you over from an average player or just outside the best 22 to being inside that," Banfield said.

"It's just allowed me to trust myself with the ball, take the game on, and trust myself to make the right decision on when to go and when to look to bring others into the game. Then defensively as well when to really be decisive and come forward.

"Following that [West Coast] game, I didn't feel the stress and anxiety that I didn't execute my role and I'm going to get dropped this week. I was able to sort of take it at face value."

Banfield, who is an unrestricted free agent, is hoping his form will see him rewarded with contract security after playing much of his career on one-year deals before a two-year extension at the end of 2022.

The 190cm forward, whose football smarts and elite communication are valued on-field traits, is keen to remain at the Dockers and is waiting on an offer from the club.

"I think my footy this year has been good enough to be rewarded with another contract and hopefully get a bit more security with it," he said.


Banfield's impact with Fremantle stretches beyond the playing field, with the Broome product also employed as the club's sustainability officer, focusing on the Dockers' environmental impact and sustainability practices.

The Dockers released their sustainability framework in 2022 with a significant contribution from Banfield and have since completed work to measure their carbon footprint and begin offsetting some of their travel.

"Last year we offset 25 per cent of our travel because obviously that's part of our core business and we can't operate as a football club in the AFL without the travel that we do. But we're trying to offset some of the impacts of that," Banfield said.

"We're working with Carbon Neutral on that as well as having a biodiversity corridor in the south-west of WA which plants diverse forestry on old farmland.

"It is a real area of passion of mine and something that I'm really strong on and value … and it's something that will impact all of us and also impact future generations as well."