IT WAS just over five years ago Brisbane fell in love with Zac Bailey.

And with some terrific recruiting and a dash of list management, the Lions landed a man that is now having a huge impact in the AFL, capped by his six-goal Marcus Ashcroft Medal-winning performance against Gold Coast last weekend.

In early 2017, just over 12 months after he moved from Darwin to boarding school in Adelaide, Bailey played his first game for Norwood in the SANFL under-18s competition.

Redlegs coach James Saywell got in touch with Brisbane's recruiting manager Stephen Conole to say there was someone on his list who might be worth having a look at.

That someone was Bailey.

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Then just 17, Bailey ran out for the first of his three games at Norwood, and was among the best players in the 43-point win over North Adelaide.

Conole was hooked.

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"It was obvious the traits he had," Conole recounted for AFL.com.au.

"His ability to read loose balls and get on to ground balls quicker than others, his ability to get in and out of traffic at speed, change direction and attack the game – those two attributes came through.

"He could win footy at stoppages, change direction, and exit forward of stoppage. Not a lot of kids could do that.

"Kevin Sheehan likes to talk about the players with the dancing feet, and that's what Zac showed.

"He was somewhat unknown, but if you watched him play, he had some special traits that he showed the start of that season."

Zac Bailey and Adam Cerra in action in the Allies v Vic Metro clash at the 2017 NAB AFL U18 Championships. Picture: AFL Photos

It began a six-month crusade for Conole and former Lions recruiter Andrew Farrell to follow the Territorian's progress.

Bailey travelled far and wide in 2017, lacing up for Norwood, the NT, Prince Alfred College and the Allies in the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships.

One thing that piqued Brisbane's interest was his rate of improvement.

Bailey had played for the NT under-16s the previous two years (once as an over-ager) and "didn't do anything remarkable at all", Conole said.

So that first-up performance for Norwood was a real head-turner.

"The first thing we thought was 'there's some pretty quick improvement in this boy'. He hadn't done a lot of training, he was travelling a lot, so we thought there'd be some vast improvement.

"Once he played for NT and was selected in the Allies, we knew there'd be a greater (national) following then."

Lions recruiting manager Stephen Conole at the 2017 NAB AFL Draft. Picture: AFL Photos

Bailey was on the rise. He starred at the national championships, winning All-Australian honours and finished his school year with five goals for PAC in the intercolleges final against St Peter's.

Conole and Farrell met with him three times in Adelaide and also headed north to meet the family in Darwin well in advance of the draft.

"He was always quiet but confident," Conole said.

"Speaking to those around him, it seemed when he got comfortable in his environment he could reach his potential and I think that's come through with school, Allies and even when he first came to Lions he took a while to settle in and fully understand the AFL system.

"Once he felt comfortable and got to know coaches, it didn't take him too long to settle."

Zac Bailey celebrates a goal with his Brisbane teammates in round five, 2018. Picture: AFL Photos

As with any potential draftee, being interested in a player is not even half the battle to acquiring him.

Dom Ambrogio had just got his feet under the desk as Brisbane's list manager in early 2017 when Conole and his team ramped up interest in Bailey.

Their weekly recruiting catch-ups soon featured the fleet-footed midfielder.

"The way he was driving his legs out of stoppages and contests was unbelievable," Ambrogio recalled.

"The same set of highlights were going around – he'd cut left, cut right, run around and get out of a stoppage. We didn't take much convincing."

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Brisbane finished that season – Chris Fagan's first in charge – in last place and started the Trade Period with picks No.1, 12 and 19 (at the high end).

The Lions were super keen on Bailey and West Australian Brandon Starcevich and were eager to maintain their high picks.

No.12 was used to acquire Charlie Cameron from Adelaide, while they would eventually add No.18 (which would push their current 19 to 20) as compensation for losing former skipper Tom Rockliff via free agency.

The next domino to fall was young forward Josh Schache, who requested a return to Victoria, which netted the Lions picks 25 and 40 from the Western Bulldogs.

Brisbane now had picks No.1, 18, 20 and 25, but Ambrogio wasn't done dealing yet.

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In the dying minutes of the Trade Period, with the ink barely dry on the Schache trade, Brisbane bundled up picks 20 and 25 and traded with Richmond to get the No.15 selection in return.

"We traded up with the intention of getting Bailey and Starcevich," Ambrogio said.

"Bails was always very high on our agenda and we just wanted to keep destiny in own hands."

The picks fell Brisbane's way and they got their young man.

Now in his fifth season, Bailey is one of the most dynamic half-forward/midfielders in the competition, kicking 16 goals through the opening six rounds.

Not every recruiting pursuit works out, but with some good planning, safeguarding in the Trade Period, development once selected and above all else hard work from Bailey, this one looks like being a home run for the Lions.