AFTER coming off a grand final loss just a few months ago, Melbourne coach Mick Stinear said he could see “genuine purpose” in his team since the preseason started. The Demons returned to Adelaide for the first time since that heartbreak, albeit in a Round 1 contest at Glenelg rather than the bright lights of Adelaide Oval. Still, the Dees went to work and after being challenged by the reigning premiers for the most part, and kicked away to win by 18 points.
Adelaide snared the first goal of the game through reigning league leading goalkicker Ashleigh Woodland, but up until Woodland’s second midway through the third, the Dees had lead the entire way. Woodland put the home side back in front, but booting four of the last five goals, the visitors ran away from their grand final conquerors to record a 6.8 (44) to 4.2 (26) victory.
“It’s good (to be back), it’s a little bit surreal that we’re back into it, we all love footy so it’s another season underway,” Stinear said. “Really, tough physical game of footy and pleased our crew could stand up against a quality side and come out ahead in the end.”
Having lost to them on the last few encounters, the win was as much about gaining a mental advantage as a physical one over the Crows. Stinear said while there was no “no taking the grand final back”, getting a victory against the reigning premiers was a promising step for Season 7.
“(The) grand final was run and done a few months ago and they were far too good for us,” Stinear said. “Tonight obviously the four points was important in such a short and concise season. “I think for the players to get that belief to play against the best and come away with the win, to be challenged physically and find a way, that would be quite significant for our group and we’ll keep building from here.
“I think there’s been a genuine purpose about the team since the preseason has started. We almost had to hold them back a little bit to start from the contest work and allow that to build. “I think the group’s really level-headed and mature, they wanted to come here and perform here tonight. “They understand there’s no taking the grand final back, but start of a new season an opportunity to set the season up really well. “They had that right balance of relaxed but determined tonight. Right from the first bounce it was on, it was a physical game.”
Skipper Daisy Pearce had only the eight touches and a goal, but when asked about her, Stinear said the leader had a “really critical” and “selfless” role that was designed to quell one of the Crows’ strengths that helped them win the grand final.
“She had a role tonight as a forward just to try and keep their intercept game to a minimum,” Pearce said. “I think in the grand final they had 17 intercept marks and today it was around eight. “Daisy was a key part in limiting those opportunities and stopping Sarah Allan and Chelsea Biddell in the air like they have previously so she played a really critical role for us and a really selfless one. “The group just acknowledged her work before, so she’s travelling really well and we might be able to free her up a bit more next week we’ll see.”
“For Lauren Pearce and Tayla to share that load a bit more it gives Lauren an opportunity to go forward at home, it just means Tayla has an opportunity to use her strengths to impact,” he said. I thought she played really well tonight, she was strong, physical, that’s what we need as a team.”
Despite a star-studded Crows midfield, the Dees were able to rotate players through there and attack the contest hard to get on top in that area and drive it forward. Eliza West had a league-record 19 handballs beating her own personal best, as well as four clearances, with Olivia Purcell having 22 disposals and three clearances of her own.
“Olivia Purcell coming off the back of an ACL last season, thought she did a really good job, but she’s had a couple more months of preparation and she’s had a lot more minutes in there, she’s really strong and clean and a good competitor,” Stinear said. “Eliza West continues to grow, the more footy she plays and the more work she gets into her fundamentals.
“They’re two who have been great additions to our midfield and it allows us to play (Lily) Mithen and (Karen) Karen Paxman on the wings a bit more and then we’ve got Eden (Zanker) and Tyla Hanks and Kate Hore being able to go through the midfield as well so we feel as though we’ve got some good depth as well that continues to grow.”
Melbourne sets its sights on the expansive surrounds of the MCG when the Demons tackle North Melbourne as a blockbuster curtain raiser for the Melbourne and Sydney AFL Men’s final next Friday, September 2 at 5pm.
“What a great opportunity for the club to be able to play as a curtain raiser for the men’s final against Sydney,” Stinear said. “Any opportunity to play at the ‘G and particularly promote women’s footy is brilliant so the players have been fortunate enough to play there a few times in the last few months, so that is certainly something that is not lost on us. “Again we’re thankful for the opportunity and make the most of it and will do our best to showcase where women’s footy’s at.”