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  1. #1
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    No room to slip as Bailey Dale’s Bulldogs head into clash for top spot

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    There wasn’t much fanfare for Bailey Dale when he reached his 25th birthday on Thursday.

    He had baked a cake with his girlfriend, Erin Meade, who plays footy with Williamstown, and he imagined he’d probably spend the rest of the day chilling in front of the television as lockdown limited their options.

    Not that it fazed Dale too much as the low-key, low-maintenance Western Bulldog prepared for another top-of-the-table clash against Melbourne in front of no crowds on the weekend.

    This time around Dale is hoping for a different result after the Demons jumped the Bulldogs in round 11, stifling their ball movement to such an extent that the margin didn’t drop below 18 points from late in the first quarter, with Melbourne eventually winning comfortably by 28 points.

    Dale admits a few early turnovers had the Bulldogs uncharacteristically rattled early with the mistakes snowballing as Melbourne kicked six goals to two in the first quarter.

    “The game was on their terms and we will be looking to use the ball a lot better than what we did ... it’s obvious they will bring the heat again,” Dale said.

    Dale is one of those ball users Melbourne will want to limit as he has a penetrating kick that travels like a stinger golf shot, low and fast and on target.

    One of the most improved players in the AFL this season, he’s displayed his speed and kicking skills in defence to such a high standard he is in line for All-Australian selection at the end of the season.

    The lean operator with a face like the comic book character Tintin appears settled there, having started his career in 2015 on the wing before moving forward around 2017 and then being called upon to go back this season.

    “It has been a real, refreshing sort of change ... to see the play and to set up other guys from behind the footy,” Dale said.

    “It has been good to get a little bit more of the ball and get involved in the game a little more. As a forward you can really have your patches where you are highly involved and then you probably don’t see the ball as much but being down back you are involved a lot more and you can get a lot more reward.”

    Dale is also tougher than his frame would suggest, having played in a senior premiership for Edithvale Aspendale in 2013 when he was just 16.

    The Eagles - a club that spawned the Healy brothers, Gerard (who referred to him as Daley Bale in commentary) and Greg, Stan Alves, Michael Moncrieff and Dylan Shiel among others - had finished bottom in 2012 but went on a winning streak in the 2013 akin to the Bulldogs’ drought-breaking 2016 finals run.

    They won the Peninsula League premiership by winning four consecutive finals including the preliminary final in extra time and the grand final after being five goals down at three-quarter-time.

    Dale, who had been crook the night before the grand final, kicked a goal in the grand final and was among the best in the preliminary final.

    “That’s a long time ago now but that was such an awesome start to my career in some ways, being able to play in a premiership so young and get to play senior football,” Dale said.

    The thrill was shared as his father Rod and uncle Craig “Butch” Dale were great players at the club in the late ’80s and ’90s with Rod a stoic defender and Craig kicking 103 goals in 1994, his bulky frame allowing him to play anywhere.

    Dale’s fondness for the pair is obvious as he has a chuckle about the tips they have handed out along the way.

    “They have been massive in my football journey and they were obviously not too bad players back in the day. Dad used to play in the back line so he is trying to give me some tips now and when I was playing in the forward line Craig was trying to tell me how to kick goals. I’m getting advice from everywhere,” Dale laughed.

    It’s easy to sense his grounded approach comes from those who surround him, with his mum Michelle and aunty Julie - known as cook at Edithvale-Aspendale for her Thursday night meals - also well regarded at the club where his brother Harley still plays.

    “I love the Edi-Asp football club. It has been a second home almost growing up with my dad and my uncle playing there,” Dale said.

    But his main focus is becoming part of a premiership team at the Western Bulldogs, having been a 14-game player as he watched the Bulldogs defeat Sydney from the sidelines in 2016.

    Dale says there is a similar vibe at the club as there was then although the playing group has changed considerably with the 25-year-old among the next generation now.

    The next step on the journey happens on Saturday with Dale well aware of what is at stake.

    “We obviously think we are a good chance of going all the way ... but we also know it is so tight at the top of the ladder at the moment and week to week if you drop one game you can slip all the way out of the four,” he said.
    FFC: Established 1877

    Premierships: AFL 1954, 2016 VFA - 1898,99,1900, 1908, 1913, 1919-20, 1923-24, VFL: 2014, 2016 . Champions of Victoria 1924. AFLW - 2018.

  2. #2
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    Re: No room to slip as Bailey Dale’s Bulldogs head into clash for top spot

    https://www.foxsports.com.au/afl/afl...m_campaign=crm

    The chance pre-season switch that sparked Dog‘s AA-worthy year

    A chance positional change in the pre-season has ultimately paved the way for Western Bulldogs gun Bailey Dale to produce his career-best year in 2021.

    So good has Dale been off the halfback line in his breakout season that he is being touted as a potential All-Australian, averaging 24 touches a game, ranking No.1 at the club for rebound-50s and also third in the competition for running bounces, behind only Adam Saad and Oleg Markov, as well as ninth for metres gained.

    As late as January, Dale was still expecting to play in a forward/wing role this season, but a move to the back pocket in a practice match scuppered those plans, and reset the 25-year-old onto a course to be one of the most damaging defenders in the AFL.

    “I had a little chat to ‘Bevo’ (coach Luke Beveridge) at the start of the pre-season block, just seeing where I was at and what sort of position I’d be playing,” Dale told foxfooty.com.au.

    “I was seeing if I could move onto a wing and then we spoke about potentially playing down back if that became an option. In our first practice match (against Hawthorn) an opportunity came up to play down there for a quarter, they liked what they saw and stuck with me for the Melbourne practice game and then didn’t look back from there.”

    Dale had always shown glimpses of his huge potential in his first six years with the Dogs, especially up forward where he’s kicked a couple of bags of five goals as well as a few hauls of four, but shifting to the other end of the ground has helped him produce his “most consistent” season.

    “Being able to see the game in front of you rather than trying to predict what the mids and the backs are going to be kicking to you as a forward (has helped),” Dale said.

    “I think as a forward you can have really, really good games and then you have games where you don’t see the footy at all, and that sometimes won’t even be your fault, it’s just potentially the way the ball is being delivered or multiple things can change that outcome.”

    A lot has been made of the Dogs’ star-studded midfield, and their potent forward line, but their backline has quietly gone about their business effectively this year, playing a huge role in their side ranking third for points conceded. Dale believes the defensive unit forming good chemistry has been a key to their success.

    “We’ve got such good connection down in our backline, we look to help each other a lot obviously and try and use the ball as well as we can to create run from behind,” he said.

    “It’s been great back there and I’ve really developed some personal relationships as well, just playing with guys that previously I haven’t played with down back.”

    It hasn't always been smooth sailing for Dale, though. While he hasn’t missed a game this season, injuries and inconsistent form meant he averaged only 10 games in his first six years.

    Last year he injured his ankle and was dropped after Round 12, failing to break back into the senior line-up for the remainder of 2020.

    It would be dramatic to say that his career reached a crossroads at the end of last season, with two years still to run on his contract, but missing out on a third finals campaign since joining the Bulldogs jolted him into action.

    “I couldn’t really work my way back into the team and then obviously they went on to play finals as well, so it was a little bit of a kick in the guts that I couldn’t could really break back into the side at that stage,” Dale said.

    “I put it on myself that I wanted to have a really good pre-season, get my fitness levels back to where they were pre-injury.

    “There were obviously people in front of me at the end of last year and I had to really work my way back into the team. It’s been good to get back in and play some consistent football.

    “I felt like I had a really solid pre-season, I put in the work and really knuckled down this year.”

    Dale never doubted if he would be able to reach his full potential, but admitted he has had to overcome many challenges in his career to get to the position he finds himself in now.

    “It’s just been good to get in the team and feel like you’ve nailed down a spot and you’re not worrying for your spot in the side each week,” he said.

    Dale has only played in one final out of seven since joining the Dogs - a 58-point loss to GWS back in 2019 – and missing out on so much September action, including his club’s entire fairytale premiership run in 2016, serves as a strong motivator for him to get another taste this year with his team one of the flag favourites.

    “Obviously 2016 was such a great year for the club and I got to play in a VFL grand final which was absolutely amazing but obviously as an AFL player you want to play in an AFL grand final and hopefully win one day,” he said.

    “To miss that in 2016 in my second year, I probably took it for granted that we were just going to make finals every year and my chance would come but over the last seven years we’ve been on and off and hopefully this year we can give it a real good tilt.”

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