Demons’ remarkable comeback sees inaugural AFL Women’s finals victory

THE second match of the AFL Women’s semi-finals saw GWS GIANTS host Melbourne in a real battle of the midfield with both sides coming in relatively equal. While the Dees had to ensure they had enough players to take the field – with two of their Irish talents heading home prior to the weekend – the GIANTS had the opportunity to bring back some of their big guns and take advantage of a two-game winning streak. Unfortunately for the stalwart GIANTS however, a massive burst in energy and drive was the clincher, with Melbourne digging deep for three straight goals to defeat the home side, 4.5 (29) to 3.8 (26).

Right from the start it was a tough contest, with both sides going in hard for the footy and relentless in their pursuit. While the first quarter was goalless it was not for a lack of trying, thanks to the impressive defensive effort of both sides. Melbourne’s Libby Birch and Daisy Pearce (15 and 22 touches respectively), and GIANTS’ Elle Bennetts and Tanya Hetherington (13 and 10) were doing the job off the half-back for their respective sides and making it tough to penetrate forward 50. Neither side was able to really apply the scoreboard pressure required to guarantee a lead early, and while an inaugural goal for Demons speedster Lily Mithen early in the second did plenty to raise morale it was only just enough to keep the Dees ahead, with Aimee Schmidt looking dangerous up the other end, finishing with 1.2 alongside fellow goalsneak Cora Staunton. While the return of Lauren Pearce was a handy inclusion for the Dees, it was the GIANTS midfield that had it over the Melbourne outfit, forcing errors and turnovers in the Demons’ forward half with Jess Allan producing clean taps to the GIANTS at the centre bounce. While the Dees had 10 more inside 50s, the GIANTS were much more clinical in the third quarter to take a solid lead and leave the Demons in the dirt, rendering the Dees goalless in the third while goals to Schmidt and Jess Dal Pos saw victory inching away from Melbourne’s sights. Eden Zanker continued to bull her way through the contest, aiding Lauren Pearce in the ruck and using her aerial ability to bring ball to ground, with Karen Paxman using her experience to take the footy from there and drive the ball forward.

Alicia Eva (12 disposals, 10 tackles, two behinds) looked dangerous in the final quarter but was unable to extend the lead – something the GIANTS captain will be ruing as real a missed opportunity, with the side unable to reenter their forward 50 for much of the last quarter. Alyce Parker (23 disposals, four marks) proved why she is such a highly valued player, digging deep and impacting the contest with her ability to find the ball. The GIANTS continued to control much of the ball movement through the middle of the ground, rebounding well with Brittany Tully (11 disposals, six tackles) and Bennetts using their speed to keep the Dees on their toes. But Melbourne’s experience well and truly came to play, with the defensive pressure going up a notch to ensure there were little uncontested marks or clean entries inside their defensive 50. A goal to Shelley Scott had the Dees up on their feet, with a closing margin and all the momentum putting the GIANTS on the defensive. Still down by nine points with less than five minutes to play, Melbourne really came out of the blocks to apply the scoreboard pressure they’d been missing, with a goal to Sarah Perkins putting the Dees within four points of victory. Less than a minute on the clock, and a great mark from Mithen saw the Demon with an opportunity to gift Melbourne its inaugural finals victory and chew up some time – and kicked true for her second career goal. Retaining possession was key for the Dees as the seconds dwindled, with the final siren seeing a massive three-point semi-final victory in the books after trailing for majority of the match. 

Mithen impressed with her two goals and some impressive – and daring – marks getting the job done up the ground for the Dees. Daisy Pearce and Paxman were some of the driving forces in the latter stage of the match, combining for 43 touches, nine tackles and five marks, while Birch was influential as ever down back, consistently providing that rebounding effort with her ability to intercept critical ball. Despite Aleisha Newman being rendered goalless once more – her first goalless season at AFL Women’s level – her drive forward was crucial in the later stages of the match while her speed and intensity saw her collect five tackles, just behind Scott, Perkins and Paxman with six apiece.

For the GIANTS, Jacinda Barclay and Rebecca Privitelli were both kept relatively quiet, and while they were solid targets up the ground, collecting five marks apiece, they were unable to have the impact they have shown in past games. Haneen Zreika and Rebecca Beeson looked dangerous at times, finding plenty of the footy with their respective 17 and 19 disposals, while Eva’s and Tully’s tackling pressure was vital.

GWS GIANTS 0.2 | 1.4 | 3.7 | 3.8 (26)
MELBOURNE 0.1 | 1.5 | 1.5 | 4.5 (29)

GOALS:

GWS: A. Schmidt, C. Staunton, J. Dal Pos.
Melbourne: L. Mithen 2, S. Scott, S. Perkins.

ADC BEST:

GWS: A. Parker, R. Beeson, E. Bennetts, H. Zreika, J. Allan
Melbourne: K. Paxman, L. Birch, D. Pearce, L. Mithen, E. Zanker

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