LIAM Baker will return home for good one day, just not yet. Home is a tiny town called Pingaring in Western Australia, nearly 350km east of Perth, a place that only has a general store and a post office. 

It is there where the Bakers own a wheat and sheep farm on more than 10,000 acres in the Wheatbelt region. And it is there where the 24-year-old will eventually settle when he is finished in the AFL.

But right now, Baker is settled at Richmond. He has become one of the first magnets Damien Hardwick puts on his board at match committee each week, establishing himself as a name in this game.

Liam Baker in action for Richmond against Essendon in round 10, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Baker has been on the road for years now. Before he was plucked out of the WAFL by Richmond at the end of 2017, Baker moved to Perth to finish school at Aquinas College and enhance his chances of being drafted. 

It took longer than first hoped, but since the Tigers used pick No.18 in the 2018 NAB AFL Rookie Draft on a player who recruiters had once dismissed as too small and too slow, Baker has developed into someone who can plug a hole wherever Richmond needs. 

Baker lives in Northcote with his landlord Jayden Short – the pair attract about as much attention as they would if they were in the main street of Pingaring – and has just returned from a six-day break in Sydney and Perth ahead of a crucial block of games on the road to September. 

"When I first moved from Perth to the bush it was a bit of a step up, but then moving to Melbourne was another much bigger step up. I miss it a fair bit. It's just part of playing footy, I guess. It is hard to get back there during the year, but I make up for it in the off-season, which is good," Baker told this week. 

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"There isn't too much going on out there; it's just farmland pretty much, everyone is working away flat out. It's a pretty nice part of the world when it's nice and green and the crops are on their way and the sheep have plenty of food. I love it out there. It's peaceful, a good change from the big smoke of Melbourne. 

"The plan is to eventually move back. The more I've been in the city, the more I've realised how much I love it out in the bush. I love the peace and quiet. Growing up and having a family there in the future really excites me and working with Dad for hopefully many years to come."

Baker has added two premierships and two top-10 finishes in the best and fairest – he finished runner-up in the 2021 Jack Dyer Medal – to his name from 75 appearances, joining Kane Lambert, Jason Castagna, Marlion Pickett and Short as successful Tigers who got their chances as rookies after being overlooked. 

But despite the success he has achieved since going the long way, Baker hasn't forgotten how it felt to be overlooked in two drafts. Even now, the 173cm utility plays with a point to prove, and always will. 

Richmond's Jayden Short and Liam Baker celebrate the 2019 premiership. Picture: AFL Photos

"It definitely does still motivate me. Even just at times going through the draft, some of the players that were rated higher than me, I thought, 'What's going on here?' Coming across them in the AFL at the moment, there is a little bit of a chip on my shoulder," he said.  

"It's just the way I am. It's the same with a lot of the other boys. The way Kane Lambert trains, Jayden Short is the same – they were both rookie picks – it was tough getting there for them as well. They are very grateful for the opportunity, just like I am. Jason Castagna fits in that as well.

"You just need one little chance. To be honest, I had belief in myself but nothing like what I needed to have. I always thought I was too small and probably not quick enough, so I bought into that. I'm glad it happened the way it did, missing out on a couple of drafts. I wouldn't change it."

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Richmond has used Baker here, there and everywhere in 2022, just like it has across his career. He started as a small forward, where he had caught the eye of recruiters at Subiaco, but has settled down in defence in the past 18 months. Being thrown around would be disruptive to some players, but it isn't to Baker.

"My belief has grown year on year. Where most of the belief has come from is the belief Dimma has in me. Changing positions a bit – last year I moved around a lot – but it was a bit of a mindset change (to) 'I'm moving because Dimma needs me somewhere else'. That gave me a lot of confidence and it still gives me a lot of confidence now," he said.

Liam Baker with Richmond coach Damien Hardwick at training on June 25, 2020. Picture: Getty Images

Where does his future lie? Both in terms of position and football club? The Swinburne Centre is a world away from outback Australia, but it has become home. The Tigers are currently negotiating a contract extension with his manager, Jason Dover from TLA Worldwide. Baker has always pictured himself as a half-forward but is enjoying a new role at the opposite end of the ground.

"I think I'm pretty settled down back at the moment," he said. "I think I'll play out the year down there. Hopefully we are injury free for the remainder of the year. If we are, I think that’s where I will be playing. I always thought of myself as a forward, but if the team needs me down back I love playing down there. I love playing with that group of six or seven players."

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It might have appeared like the dynasty had been demolished at the end of last season after the Tigers failed to return to September for the first time since they ended a 37-year premiership drought in 2017. But Baker believes there is a renewed sense of confidence that Richmond can make another deep run by the time this winter becomes spring. 

"The belief is there from the group, especially from the coaches; they drive it into us. Some of our losses have been us hurting us, which has been disappointing, but if we rectify that with free kicks and 50-metre penalties and that kind of stuff, we could be sitting a lot better," he said. 

"I've got confidence we can push for a top-six, hopefully top-four spot, and come September anything can happen. We've been there before; we know we can do it."

One day Baker will be back in Pingaring telling his kids about his career at Punt Road. But that can wait. Right now, he has unfinished business in the big smoke.