Adam Cooney throws support behind Bailey Smith after youngster steps away from Western Bulldogs

Headshot of Catherine Healey
Catherine HealeyThe West Australian
Bailey Smith has stepped away from the Western Bulldogs for personal reasons.
Camera IconBailey Smith has stepped away from the Western Bulldogs for personal reasons. Credit: Dylan Burns/AFL Photos

Brownlow Medallist Adam Cooney has thrown his support behind Bulldog Bailey Smith, after the young gun stepped away from the game for personal reasons.

The Western Bulldogs confirmed Smith would take an indefinite leave of absence from the club after his meteoric rise in AFL ranks.

Speaking on SEN on Monday, Cooney said he understood Smith’s need for space.

“Even in a team environment, you can feel alone,” he said.

Marcus Bontempelli embraces teammate Bailey Smith after the 2021 Grand Final loss.
Camera IconMarcus Bontempelli embraces teammate Bailey Smith after the 2021 Grand Final loss. Credit: Gary Day/AFL Photos

“I honestly wouldn’t know a professional athlete that doesn’t have anxiety. That comes part and parcel with the job, because of the high pressure, high stress environment.

“People might say when you’re playing AFL footy, it’s a great living. You get paid a lot of money, you keep fit, popular, all those sorts of things. But the flip side of that is the pressure and stress involved in it.

“I’d say there would be at least 95 per cent of players and elite sportspeople that have (mental health concerns).”

Smith is one of the hottest talents in the AFL, with a bigger social media following than superstar Dustin Martin — despite being in just his third season.

But his decision to step away from the game hasn’t come as a shock, given Smith has been open about his mental health struggles in the past.

“We’ve all got demons, we’ve all got things that make us anxious or struggle,” Smith said last March.

“You can never judge a book by its cover. There’s a lot going on. I’m an over-thinker, always have been.

“I think it’s healthy to talk about it, and know that everyone doesn’t always cope as well as they would like, and it’s OK to put your hand up and say you’re struggling.”

Smith has also spoken about how he deals with his growing fame and trying to stay grounded.

“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,” he said.

Bailey Smith is the most followed AFL player on Instagram.
Camera IconBailey Smith is the most followed AFL player on Instagram. Credit: Michael Willson/AFL Photos

“There are so many people around you and wanting this and that from you, it’s so easy to feel empty inside, as dark as that sounds.

“Just for my day-to-day and something that helps me when I’m having a panic attack or just having a down day: the sun will rise tomorrow,” he said. “Understanding that whatever happens, the sun will rise. Life goes on. It’s not that important. You’re gonna die one day. It’s such a small, minuscule part of your life, just live it like it is.”

The Bulldogs have confirmed they will support Smith in his time away from the club.

Lifeline: 13 11 14

If you or someone you know needs help, phone SANE Australia Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263)

Young people seeking support can phone beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or go to headspace.org.au

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails