Bailey Smith after the Western Bulldogs' win over GWS in round eight, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

BAILEY Smith quickly became one of footy's most recognisable faces at the start of his career as a young star on the rise for the Western Bulldogs.

Now into the fifth year of his career, the gun midfielder joins Cal Twomey for this week's Q&A about the Dogs' hot form, how he has matured, last year's 'wake-up call' when suspended by the AFL, his views on celebrity culture and the media, his leadership ambitions and why he's already thinking about how he'll be remembered. 

Let's start with one you've never been asked in an interview: did you know Patrick Cripps pulled your hair last week? 

That's a good question. We laughed about it during the game because I put a bit of mayo on it to see if I could milk a free kick. It was a bit of fun and games. It's happened a few times at training over the years but never in a game so it was quite funny. 

Patrick Cripps pulls Bailey Smith's hair during the R9 match between Carlton and the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium on May 13, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

Thirty disposals, a career-high 10 clearances and the match-sealing goal for you against Carlton. How did you set yourself for the task against Cripps? 

I wanted to take my opportunity in getting more time playing the inside midfield [role] and really stamp my authority on the game and doing it in ways where I might not have a stat or two but I've helped the team. It was one of those games where I got to really show my inside capabilities. I've been an uncontested sort of player so I wanted to explore that other side of my game and to show that I'm not just all outside. That's my goal ultimately – to be a great inside and outside player for whatever the situation or stoppage needs at that time. 

The Dogs have won four in a row and six of your last seven games and on Saturday face Adelaide in Ballarat. Is everything clicking at the moment?  

We're in a really good space. We've got some momentum but there's that challenge of trying to maintain it and show up each week. It's certainly a focus of ours coming into Adelaide. They got us there last year and are a great side. We're trying to cement that momentum and become a formidable side and climb our way up the ladder. We want to be one of the best sides week in, week out and not just for periods of the season. Ballarat is a great place to play for us and is harder for opposition sides from interstate to go down to, but they've done it before so we've got to make it a bit more of a fortress. 

This week will be game No.92 for you. Does that feel like it has flown by?

Yeah, but not crazily. I feel like I should be further than that because my body has pulled up recently. The first three years I had a good run and then last year missed games through my body and suspension. Even this year my body has had a few niggles here and there. It's been quick when you look at it but I'm always chasing more so I feel like I should be further ahead of where I am now. 

Bailey Smith poses at Whitten Oval after being drafted by the Western Bulldogs in November 2018. Picture: AFL Photos

Evaluating your own career must be an evolving process. How have you looked to grow your game? 

It's about building that more outward look to my teammates and not just focusing on my own game. The more you play the more doing the right things becomes second nature so I've tried to help the younger boys and their journeys. That's made me more invested to come in each day to help the new draftees doing touch or taking them for edits downstairs. That's made me more invested day to day. I sat on the bench and helped out when I was injured down at Port Melbourne and that stuff I probably wouldn't have considered in my first few years because you're so stressed about getting a game. I've been able to spread my wings, help others and I want to lead by example to help create our culture as well. We always strive for more and I want to be a pioneer in that. 

Nearly 12 months ago you were enjoying a great patch of form before the suspension from the AFL for conduct unbecoming when the photos emerged. How did you take stock during that period?

It was certainly tough. But that's life. Shit happens and you learn from it. It's made me grow as a person and my resilience from that is so much stronger with my support network. It was a bit of a wake-up call to showcase more of the side of me that I didn't show in my first couple of years because I was so insular and focused on improving as a player. I was a leader in under-18s and captain at Sandringham and my school team and that got lost, so it was about drawing back to that and getting back to the person I wanted to be and to impact the group really positively through my work ethic and especially off-field. It was certainly a great wake-up call and has put me in good stead now. 

Bailey Smith during the R12 match between Western Bulldogs and Geelong at Marvel Stadium on June 3, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

At the time how difficult was that glare and spotlight?

That's tough but I always just put it into perspective. I have the opportunity to play the game I love and each day I get to exercise which is something I love as well. When you strip it back to how privileged you are, the hard things and shit that happens seems quite small. I don't ignore the spotlight, you just accept it and understand that it's there and it can't all be sunshine and rainbows. You get to do what you love and nearly not work a day in your life so if there's shit that comes along with that then you have to accept it. 

You talk about being a little bit lost from where you had been. Can you describe the space you feel in now? 

It's so different, even within the four walls here at the club to not be so insular. Maturing has been a big thing in wanting to help my teammates and explore that space rather than always constantly work on my own game because you can do both at the same time. It's been doing that and also being so much more productive on my days off. Me and my manager Robbie D'Orazio have been doing tons of stuff that is coming out later in the year and I've been going to Cotton On a fair bit working under some people there which has been so exciting. To lean on some of the people there like Ash Hardwick has been huge for me and it's different to the footy world. I'm spreading my wings in lots of different areas and growing as a person and because I'm in a better space I have the appetite for that. I don't want to just sit in bed all day on my day off and lounge around. I want to go out and be busy. 

Did you find yourself stuck in that 'lounge-around' phase?

Oh, definitely. In my first few years I'd do nothing on my days off. I'd not leave the house. I was a bit lost and footy was everything, which is a good thing and it has to be for the first couple of years because you want to cement yourself as a good player and try to improve as much as you can. But it's that element of maturity and understanding that you can do both: work on your game but broaden your horizons to different opportunities.  

There's a lot of flashpoints in your career. I'd say the first was at Frankston Oval early in your draft year when it was teeming down with rain and you had 44 disposals. After that you were locked as a top-10 pick. Did you recognise it at the time?

I always looked ahead in terms of my goal to get drafted and I had the belief I was good enough, but I never thought I'd be a top-10 pick. I was inducted into the AFL Academy in the second intake so I always had a chip on my shoulder that I didn't belong. I was looking at 'Walshy' (Sam Walsh) as the benchmark, then (Jack) Lukosius and Max and Ben (King) and Connor Rozee from under-16s level and thought I was a bit off them. That drove me to train harder and try to make more improvements in my game and dig a bit deeper. It was more after the Vic Metro carnival that I felt like I belonged. 

Bailey Smith kicks the ball during the U18 AFL Championship match between Vic Metro and South Australia at Marvel Stadium on July 4, 2018. Picture: Getty Images

I remember you being quiet but forging your way in America when we went there in 2018 with that AFL Academy camp. Do you still stay across how that draft group fares?  

I love seeing how we're all going. Zak Butters is having a great year, Walshy is a star in his own right and it was good to play with him and chat to him on the weekend. I just love how competitive but talented our draft group was because it makes you want to reach new heights and another level. You always keep in touch with how the general competition is going but also your draft crop a bit too because it pushes you to be better and you appreciate the good things they do. 

2021 was your big coming of age season, which exploded in the finals. Take me to the ice in the veins moment.

The finals was a very fun period. It's a bit of a blur and there was some adversity with the COVID restrictions but looking back it was one of the most fun journeys I'll experience with the side we had. Those finals against Brisbane and Port Adelaide were a bit of a blur. It was crazy. I didn't pay attention to it blowing up in the media with our finals run and then a bit of my own form because we were out of the Melbourne bubble and tucked away which was good in a sense because you didn't feel the pressure or expectation. Against the Dees you always look back on the Grand Final and kick yourself and think 'Could I have done more?' but it's something for this group to leverage off and it has helped us mature and understand what it takes to go all the way, as much as it hurts. 


The Dogs got three goals up in the Grand Final in that famous third quarter. Did you let yourself think 'I could win a flag here'?

Not really. I was always focused on trying to stem their flow and stop what they wanted to do but it got to a point where it was quite overwhelming. Not everything was going their way but they worked so well together their midfield group, especially from centre bounce, and they piled on the goals really quickly. It was later in the game where we were like 'Far out, that's a bit out of reach'. We're constantly trying to chase that. 

Your fame rose steeply then too. What's your view of celebrity culture in sport now you've experienced it?

It's quite humbling at first but then it becomes relatively toxic and ego driven. It plays with your head a little bit at times and if you say it doesn't you can be lying, but for me it doesn't now which is great. It's part of growing up and learning. At first it's quite flattering and you appreciate it and then it depends where you go from there. Do you take it and let your head get massive and think you rule the world? I probably did for a little bit and ultimately spiralled out of control to now where it's like you take it in your stride but also don't put any weight into it. I've just stripped it back to the things I love doing which is training every day, my teammates, my family, my girlfriend, my friends. 

Have you taken back some of your personal life to make it more personal to you?

I barely go out now. There was a period there where I'd go flat out and just love doing that with my mates. But it's understanding that when you see your mates it doesn't have to be on the piss or going out all the time. That's something that I've changed and shifted my mindset to getting a coffee with them. It was very foreign at first because with my mates growing up it was around drinking and going out, which I think it is a lot in the Australian culture. So it was changing that routine. I've changed that for a more healthy environment. It's uncomfortable at first because I feel like it's not something us as men have always done and I think we've got a lot of room to grow in that space in catching up as mates and having a chat rather than being on the punt or drinking. It's finding a way to do that that's been my goal and it's been good. Routine is really massive for me in terms of keeping my emotions and my moods stable. Getting up at the same time every day and feeling a bit of purpose in my day instead of just drifting and going through the motions which I was for a bit there. I'm in a good space now. 

Another thing that you've put some time into is your art, which has always been an interest for you. Who's your favourite artist? 

I like Vincent Van Gogh. Conor McGregor has a quote about him and how he lost his mind in the process of chasing perfection in his art so I appreciate that – having a love for someone's craft, whatever it is. 

We've done a sit-down interview every year of your career going back to our first chat in 2018, but you don't do much of it. What's your view of the media? 

I think it's a necessity and is ingrained in sport and footy and is needed, because they do a lot of great stuff. Being on the receiving end of bad stuff, it's hard to be as empathetic to want to do interviews and you get the view they're after you which is annoying because I know a lot of them aren't and they're great people. It's finding the balance between doing stuff with people I trust like you and developing more of a relationship like we have. I think media is not as relationship-based as I'd like it and it can be them trying to get something off you. It's an interesting one. It's hard as a player and any sportsperson to try and have a great relationship with the media and love it and want to do it but it's about having those relationships and if you create a good relationship with a reporter then you do it happily. It doesn't feel like what we're doing now is a chore when we're just having a chat. It can be hard to change your mindset and I have been working on it and now I'm a lot more open to it. It's about creating relationships so it's a good environment. 

What drives you now? You're 22 and will have played 100 games pretty soon. That sets up a lot of good times ahead. What does success look like for you?

The pinnacle is winning a premiership. I'd love to be a part of that. We constantly hear stories of the premiership in 2016 and I just want to recreate that. That's what's at the forefront of my mind. But I want to improve on the field and then off-field I want to tap into my work ethic in multiple ways and leave a mark on the club. I already think about how I would like to be remembered and I strive after excellence each day. Whatever happens from that happens. You have to enjoy the ups and downs because it's all part of it and makes you into the person you want to be.

We started with a hair question, we may as well finish with one. Plenty of kids out there will want to know: are you keeping the mullet?

I am. I'll get rid of it at some stage. I'll buzzcut it eventually but I don't know if it's this year or next.