Western Bulldogs cult figure Bailey Smith is taking an indefinite leave of absence from the club for personal reasons.
The 21-year-old midfielder is completing his training remotely but football boss and club great Chris Grant is confident Smith’s preparation for next season won’t be impeded.
The Bulldogs also allowed Western Australian pair Tim English and Aaron Naughton and South Australian Caleb Daniel to train interstate pre-Christmas because of Covid-19 border uncertainty.
Smith’s circumstances are different to that trio as he focuses on personal issues, including but not restricted to private family matters.
“We remain in close contact with Bailey, and we respect and understand his need to spend some time away from the club at the moment,” Grant said.
“With such a short training block before the Christmas break for the AFL squad; we are comfortable to afford Bailey the time he needs.
“We’ll support him throughout, and he’ll return when he is ready.
“Bailey has maintained an extremely high level of physical conditioning throughout his entire career, and we’re looking forward to reintegrating him into the program at the appropriate time.”
Smith is known as an obsessive and dedicated trainer and has not missed a match in his first three seasons since the Dogs selected him seventh overall in the star-studded 2018 AFL Draft.
He has dethroned Richmond superstar Dustin Martin as the most-followed AFL footballer on Instagram with 355,000 and has become one of the most recognised players in the game.
But Smith told the Common Chaos podcast in October that there were mental health challenges which came with his overnight fame.
He revealed he had dealt with anxiety, panic attacks, difficulty sleeping and even eating disorder symptoms as he adapts to fans wanting to know his every move.
“I acknowledge (the attention), I know it’s there, it is the elephant in my brain, but I ignore it as much as I can,” Smith said.
“The things that ground me each day – I go get my coffee, going to the beach from 10 until 2, my best friends, getting dinner. I focus on what I want to do each day and what I want to get out of myself.
“I don’t open up that much, because I’m scared of being judged – and it’s just something that’s got to do with me.
“Fear of just being taken advantage of, as well. You can’t just open up to anyone, so I don’t do that, but it’s been so refreshing over the past couple of days just to talk to you guys and not feel alone.
“There are so many people around you wanting this and that from you; it’s so easy to feel empty inside, as dark as that sounds.”
Smith was involved in an alleged incident at Burleigh Pavilion on the Gold Coast in the days after the Bulldogs’ grand final loss.
A man complained to police about being pushed but neither the club nor police took further action.