He made an immediate impact in his first AFL season on the Gold Coast, but reaching the heights of AFL football was almost just a dream for Bailey Humphrey.

‘The boy from Moe’ played 19 games in a breakout debut AFL season and hasn’t missed a match since his first in Round 4 last year, earning himself a Rising Star nomination along the way.

As the latest guest on Chats with Rat podcast, hosted by SUNS teammate Rory Atkins, the young midfielder takes a trip down memory lane, detailing three specific matches as a 16-year-old that would end up shaping his blossoming AFL career.

“I was doubting myself that I wasn’t good enough (to make it to the AFL) and I actually quit Gippsland Power in Under 16s,” Humphrey said.

“I gave up footy completely. It was scary to be honest… all I’ve ever wanted to do was play AFL.

“If I didn’t take that year off, I wouldn’t be here playing footy now. I was so mentally drained, and it took a big toll on me.

“It was the best thing for me. I was lucky enough to play just three games in that year in Moe before COVID hit… with my mates, Under 18s, no seniors, no nothing… it’s probably three games I’ll never forget.”

With both eyes and his heart squarely focused on reaching the AFL, the now 19-year-old battled adversity throughout his two Under-18-eligible seasons, navigating both selection heartbreak and injury.

“I got overlooked for the Vic Country team in my Under 17 year. To be honest, I was probably more talent than hard work and that probably put it into perspective for me on how hard I needed to work to make it to the AFL,” Humphrey continued.

“I worked my arse off to try get as fit as I could because the feedback was always about my running.

“In my Under 18 year, I got cut (from Vic Country) at the start of the year, just because there were too many midfielders and I wasn’t good enough.

“I played Rounds 1-6 at Gippsland and then unfortunately tore my meniscus which set me back 10 weeks and I missed a fair bit of footy. I thought my dream of playing AFL was over, but I was lucky enough to come back from that knee injury and play some pretty good footy.

“I played two games after my knee and then I got a call from Vic Country… that’s when it all started going for me.”

That phone call resulted in a call-up to the Vic Country side for the eventual National Championships decider against Vic Metro.

Humphrey kicked a goal that day as his backend to the 2022 season saw him soar into calculations as a potential Top 10 pick at the 2022 AFL Draft.

The SUNS would take Humphrey with its first selection at Pick 6, but Humphrey admits he wasn’t certain as to which club would call his name heading into draft night

“(Coming into the AFL) I don’t think much caught me by surprise. You know everyone works hard so I knew what I was coming into… it was more the draft process.

“I’d prepared two weeks before the draft to move to the SUNS, packed up all my stuff and then on draft night there was a chance that Melbourne were going to trade up to get me.

“It was all a bit confusing, but I ended up at the SUNS in the end.”

The move interstate from a small country town in rural Victoria had its challenges, but the Queensland coastal life is feeling more like home than ever for Humphrey.

After initially being allocated with a host family, the 19-year-old took plenty of wisdom bunking alongside teammate Wil Powell throughout his debut season, during which he inked a long-term contract extension that will see him remain at the club through until the end 2028.

With his second AFL pre-season under his belt now, Humphrey’s now also enjoying a change of scenery living alongside SUNS AFLW stars Maddy Brancatisano, Meara Girvan and Jac Dupuy.

“I’m pretty hard on myself. If I’d come home from training or a game and I wasn’t happy with myself, he (Powell) would just let me know how it is, he’d just say ‘mate, you’ve only played three games, don’t take it so hard on yourself.’

“He helped me more with the mental side of things away from footy. Moving in with Powelly has been the best thing for me because I’ve gained that relationship with him for life now.

“Living with the girls now… they’re doing the same stuff, but there aren’t too many questions (about footy).

“With Powelly we’d talk about training a fair bit, but getting home with the girls now, it’s a different topic which is refreshing.”