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    From Xavier's half-back line to a prelim: Schoolmates on two EPIC moments

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    WHEN Bailey Smith's kick floated through for his second goal in Saturday night's semi-final epic with Brisbane – no, not that goal – the first person he saw was Western Bulldogs teammate Laitham Vandermeer.

    Smith put both his hands around Vandermeer's neck in sheer excitement before they embraced in a hug, the duo caught up in the euphoria of perhaps the best game of the season.SHARE




    Bailey Smith runs hard and somehow manages to sneak through this crazy goal on the burst

    But the pair, who have been close friends since going to school at Xavier College together before joining the Bulldogs at the 2018 NAB AFL Draft, both had bigger moments to come.

    For Smith, it was his left-foot goal in the final two minutes that came with a now iconic celebration. For Vandermeer, it was the hurried but smart kick in the last 50 seconds that put the Bulldogs one point ahead and sent them into this week's preliminary final with Port Adelaide.


    So whose was better?


    "Yours is sick. You get to kick the snag on the left and pull out the 'Ice in the veins' celebration," Vandermeer told Smith when the pair caught up with AFL.com.au this week.


    "Yeah, but if you didn't get the point, mate, we wouldn't have won," Smith said.


    After nailing the crunch goal, Smith's relentless effort inside-50 and toe-poke pass saw the ball directly spill to Vandermeer, who quickly dribbled it through to give the Dogs the lead while being tackled.

    SHARE




    Enjoy the thrilling final moments between the Lions and Bulldogs at the Gabba

    "I thought I was on and someone dived on my legs and I fell over and you were there. It should have been in the back for you but you got the point anyway. How would you have gone if you had gotten the free kick?" Smith asked Vandermeer.

    "I was talking about this before as we were going through my edits," Vandermeer said. "I don't know if I would have pulled out the opposite-sided snag or just gone the banana. I would have loved to get a goal, though. If you get a goal you can celebrate. You don't kick a point and start getting around yourself."


    For Smith and Vandermeer, it was just the most recent occasion of a partnership that goes back to 2016, when Vandermeer moved from Mooroopna to board at Xavier, a prestigious Melbourne school with a strong football pedigree where Smith had done his schooling.





    He was in year 11 that year and Smith in year 10, but they shared the same tutor group, with Smith usually arriving with a ham, cheese, lettuce and carrot toastie.

    "That was probably my biggest memory of him from then, he loved his toasties," Vandermeer said. "He was so driven and is probably a bit more relaxed now but he is the ultra professional and easy to get along with. That's probably when we started to be mates."


    On the field, their partnership began on Xavier's half-back line.

    "We were both there at that stage and we played Assumption College in a practice game and we were having a day out. Laith had 40 plus…" Smith said.
    "44 and two," Vandermeer jumped in.

    "I did my ankle at quarter-time that day but we grew closer over those years and really wanted to do well for the school. We did lots together each day," Smith said.





    Vandermeer was overlooked in his initial draft year in 2017 but went back to the Murray Bushrangers and proved himself as a tough, fast and versatile option at NAB League level in 2018.

    He remained in close contact with Smith, who blossomed that year in his draft season to be a standout prospect and was taken with the Bulldogs' No.7 pick. The draft was staged over two days for the first time that year, and on the second Vandermeer joined the Dogs with pick 37.


    "Knowing that Bailey was there just made it so much more comfortable. It's pretty daunting coming to an AFL club so having a bloke who you can lean on in that aspect is huge. Our mums have a good relationship out of our footy career so they were stoked themselves that we got to go together. Not many people get to have that opportunity to get drafted with a mate so it was the best thing that could've happened," Vandermeer says.


    Smith played every game in his debut year – and has played 65 straight since arriving at Whitten Oval – while Vandermeer broke through last year for his first senior appearance. A hamstring injury last year and then a nagging knee issue this year forced him out of the side but he has become a valuable member of the Dogs' line-up.


    That rise in his career came after the pair joined forces during last year's pause of the AFL season, with them pledging to make the most of their time away from the game. Smith took gym equipment in his car to the local park and they would meet for early morning sessions, afternoon runs and everything in between.


    They over-worked: a broken measurement wheel that they thought had traced out a 400-metre track at Albert Park was later found to be faulty – accidentally they had been running 500s and then wondering why their times had slipped. So intent were they to make the most of the game's pause that they both had some nagging back problems later in the year.




    Bailey Smith and Laitham Vandermeer celebrate during the Dogs' win semi-final win over Brisbane on September 4, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

    "As soon as we got shut down we messaged each other and said 'Let's get the best out of ourselves'," Vandermeer said.

    "We were training three times a week with each other and it's always good from my perspective because 'Baz' (Smith) is one of the fitter blokes getting around so it was handy having him there because he'd drive you.


    "We made a promise to each other that we'd get the best out of each other and ourselves and looking back on it now I hadn't played a game to that point and after training with 'Barry' (another Smith nickname) my fitness got better and I ended up debuting that season. It's probably a credit to having him there and having fun in that time of our lives which was pretty ordinary."


    Their time together has been shared on the road. In last year's Queensland hub they would often be found gaming together, and Smith calls Vandermeer his "constant" in another season of roadtrips.


    "We've got differences in how we've grown up and stuff but I feel like we're so similar in what makes us happy, what pisses us off, what makes us laugh. It's all the same," Smith says.


    "Even with the gaming all we do in our spare time is the same thing: he loves his Warzone, I love my Fortnite. He trains hard, I train hard."


    They listen to the same music – rapper Drake a favourite – but Vandermeer suggests it's hard keeping up with Smith, who has even became a poster child for vaccination after his point-at-the-arm goal celebration last week.


    "I'd probably say I'm a poor man's 'Bazlenka'. Probably the only thing I've got him covered for is speed," Vandermeer says.

    On Saturday they will be vital in the Bulldogs' quest to make it to the Grand Final. For Vandermeer, it is hard to believe they will both be there in the penultimate week of the season. "I can't get my head around it personally," he said.


    And for Smith, despite the high stakes of the game with a premiership two wins away, having Vandermeer next to him makes the big game feel a little more normal.


    "Having the amount of memories with Laith before AFL and since then, it almost makes it less scary that we're in a prelim together because I've got him there and we've done this before," Smith said. "It's a big game but you've got your best mate alongside you."
    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.

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  3. #2
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    Re: From Xavier's half-back line to a prelim: Schoolmates on two EPIC moments

    Bailey is a superstar human and Laith is a ripper we are very lucky to have them.
    Do you think when Laith got 44 and 2 against Assumption they'd imagined being Western Bulldogs?
    From what I know of Bailey he is as proud as punch to represent us westies! He's that kind of kid.

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    Re: From Xavier's half-back line to a prelim: Schoolmates on two EPIC moments

    I reckon that Gary Cowton originally came from Mooroopna too.
    King Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. [singing stops] That is why I am your king.
    Dennis: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

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    Re: From Xavier's half-back line to a prelim: Schoolmates on two EPIC moments

    Quote Originally Posted by Grantysghost View Post
    Bailey is a superstar human and Laith is a ripper we are very lucky to have them.
    Do you think when Laith got 44 and 2 against Assumption they'd imagined being Western Bulldogs?
    From what I know of Bailey he is as proud as punch to represent us westies! He's that kind of kid.
    Bailey looks like he grew up in downtown Braybrook. The kid's going to be a star.
    King Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. [singing stops] That is why I am your king.
    Dennis: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

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    Re: From Xavier's half-back line to a prelim: Schoolmates on two EPIC moments

    Quote Originally Posted by Twodogs View Post
    I reckon that Gary Cowton originally came from Mooroopna too.
    My mother in law is from Mooroopna and knows Laith's grandmother.

    She has become a mad WB supporter. Last week watching the Lions game, she said she was shaking for the last 10 min of the game (she is 88). I hope we win easily for her health sake tonight - don't want a close one.
    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.

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    Re: From Xavier's half-back line to a prelim: Schoolmates on two EPIC moments

    Quote Originally Posted by bornadog View Post
    My mother in law is from Mooroopna and knows Laith's grandmother.

    She has become a mad WB supporter. Last week watching the Lions game, she said she was shaking for the last 10 min of the game (she is 88). I hope we win easily for her health sake tonight - don't want a close one.
    Love these stories BAD. Hope she's a happy Doggy tonight!

    My mum the same, she's 84 with Parkinsons and she really struggled with the Lions game (as did I!).

    I hope it's not close for them!

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    Re: From Xavier's half-back line to a prelim: Schoolmates on two EPIC moments

    Quote Originally Posted by bornadog View Post
    My mother in law is from Mooroopna and knows Laith's grandmother.

    She has become a mad WB supporter. Last week watching the Lions game, she said she was shaking for the last 10 min of the game (she is 88). I hope we win easily for her health sake tonight - don't want a close one.
    Quote Originally Posted by Grantysghost View Post
    Love these stories BAD. Hope she's a happy Doggy tonight!

    My mum the same, she's 84 with Parkinsons and she really struggled with the Lions game (as did I!).

    I hope it's not close for them!
    My mother in law has advanced Parkinson’s. She couldn’t stop shaking after the game. Even now.
    Sam Power: Great Sage, Equal Of Heaven

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    Re: From Xavier's half-back line to a prelim: Schoolmates on two EPIC moments

    Quote Originally Posted by bulldogtragic View Post
    My mother in law has advanced Parkinson’s. She couldn’t stop shaking after the game. Even now.
    Oh crikey. Yes the stress levels exacerbate the symptoms big time. Hope she's OK mate.
    Little story about my mum, she's been to 54 and 16 GF's 50 + year member.
    She got a tattoo, in secret, after 16 on her upper arm saying 54 / 16 WOOF with the Doggies emblem in the middle.

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    Re: From Xavier's half-back line to a prelim: Schoolmates on two EPIC moments

    Another good insight into Bailey here: https://www.theage.com.au/sport/afl/...10-p58qlj.html

    When I watched the replay I was amazed about how Bailey performed in the last quarter..not just the goals but the gut running. He’s unfairly maligned here, I hope last week showed what a gem he is and that beneath that attention seeking look, he is just as desperate to succeed as any in our team.
    www.bulldogtragician.com A blog about being a lifelong fan of the Dogs and our quixotic attempt to replicate 1954. AND WE DID
    Author of "The Mighty West: the Bulldogs journey from daydream believers to premiership heroes"
    Twitter @bulldogstragic

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    Re: From Xavier's half-back line to a prelim: Schoolmates on two EPIC moments

    Quote Originally Posted by Grantysghost View Post
    Oh crikey. Yes the stress levels exacerbate the symptoms big time. Hope she's OK mate.
    Little story about my mum, she's been to 54 and 16 GF's 50 + year member.
    She got a tattoo, in secret, after 16 on her upper arm saying 54 / 16 WOOF with the Doggies emblem in the middle.
    At least tonight she won’t have to worry about that poor Young boy.

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    Re: From Xavier's half-back line to a prelim: Schoolmates on two EPIC moments

    Quote Originally Posted by bulldogsthru&thru View Post
    At least tonight she won’t have to worry about that poor Young boy.
    Oh so true haha.

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    Re: From Xavier's half-back line to a prelim: Schoolmates on two EPIC moments

    Quote Originally Posted by The bulldog tragician View Post
    Another good insight into Bailey here: https://www.theage.com.au/sport/afl/...10-p58qlj.html

    When I watched the replay I was amazed about how Bailey performed in the last quarter..not just the goals but the gut running. He’s unfairly maligned here, I hope last week showed what a gem he is and that beneath that attention seeking look, he is just as desperate to succeed as any in our team.
    It was herculean he basically won that final for us.

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    Re: From Xavier's half-back line to a prelim: Schoolmates on two EPIC moments

    Quote Originally Posted by Grantysghost View Post
    It was herculean he basically won that final for us.
    I wonder if he plays more forward again tonight
    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.

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    Re: From Xavier's half-back line to a prelim: Schoolmates on two EPIC moments

    Quote Originally Posted by Grantysghost View Post
    Oh crikey. Yes the stress levels exacerbate the symptoms big time. Hope she's OK mate.
    Little story about my mum, she's been to 54 and 16 GF's 50 + year member.
    She got a tattoo, in secret, after 16 on her upper arm saying 54 / 16 WOOF with the Doggies emblem in the middle.
    That's awesome!
    King Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. [singing stops] That is why I am your king.
    Dennis: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

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    Re: From Xavier's half-back line to a prelim: Schoolmates on two EPIC moments

    Quote Originally Posted by bornadog View Post
    I wonder if he plays more forward again tonight
    Was he forward or bursting in there from the wing? Wish I was at the games!

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