2019 finish: 4th (Conference A)

2020 finish: 3rd (Conference B)

Grade: A


In a Nutshell

It was hardly expected that Melbourne would break its finals duck during a headache of a pre-season that saw the Demons lose Katherine Smith, Shae Sloane (both ACL injuries) and Bianca Jakobsson (work commitments with Victoria Police) for the year, and ruck Lauren Pearce (knee) and rover Lily Mithen (ankle) for the first month of the season.

The resilience of Mick Stinear’s team shone in a gritty Round 1 win over premiership favourites North Melbourne. A wasteful Round 3 loss against the Saints threatened the Demons’ finals chances before finals were at last secured with polished wins over Collingwood and West Coast. Melbourne’s first final against GWS was far from pretty – indeed, the Giants had the match on their terms for much of the day – before the Demons kicked three goals in the final five minutes to steal a famous win.

The return of Daisy Pearce (who captained her side after missing the 2019 season while pregnant with twins) and addition of both wantaway Dog Libby Birch and pocket rocket Niamh McEvoy gave Melbourne a superb defensive unit (the Demons conceded the fewest points of any side).

The indefatigable Karen Paxman played yet another outstanding season leading the league in clearances with 39. The 31-year old should become one of just two players to gain All-Australian selection in every season and claim her second consecutive Best & Fairest Award.

While it was the small and midsize size forwards in Tyla Hanks, Shelley Scott and Kate Hore who were the most consistent in 2020, it was a tall forward who grabbed the headlines late in the season. Melbourne’s injuries brought former Adelaide forward Sarah Perkins from the train-on player list to the team sheet in Round 5 and the 26-year old kicked a goal in each of the last three games to spark her future as an AFLW player.

For 2021

Why change? This Melbourne side was top three in the strongest conference without walk-in best 21 players Smith and Jakobsson. Bringing those two defenders back could release Daisy Pearce back into the midfield. The small forward set-up served Melbourne well enough to win but the Demons were only the fifth-highest scoring side in the league. Perkins hinted that she will seek a spot on the Demons’ 2021 list, the addition of a consistent tall could bring Melbourne into premiership contention.