Bitter memory of 'worst game' drives big Demon

IT'S UNDERSTANDABLE that Melbourne key forward Tegan Cunningham has personal motivation almost as powerful as her team's pursuit of victory against the Western Bulldogs as part of Saturday night's NAB AFL Women's competition double-header at Marvel Stadium.

Cunningham yearns to erase a bitter memory from late last season in a bid to help the Demons stay in the hunt for a preliminary final spot over the last two rounds. 

She recalls a self-confessed shocker as a non-contributor when Melbourne's two-point loss to the Western Bulldogs at Whitten Oval in the final round of 2018 cost it a Grand Final berth and shot at the flag eventually snared by the Dogs.

"That was my worst game… I didn't get one touch for the entire game. So, I'm looking to redeem myself. It was our last game of the year and there's that little bit of revenge factor this time," she said.

Melbourne is sitting fourth in the highly competitive Conference A, one win behind Adelaide, North Melbourne and Fremantle, and will be striving to improve their already healthy percentage of 160, second only to the Crows, in case several teams finish the home and away rounds with the same points.

"First, we have to get the win and, hopefully, the rest will control itself," Cunningham said. 

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The 186cm forward, who plays basketball during the winter months, brings solid form into this weekend, having booted an equal-best three goals in the Demons' 39-point win against Greater Western Sydney at Blacktown last Sunday.

"It's always nice to be on the end of a few. It's really a credit to the midfield for getting it to me. We were changing lanes a bit more and going down the lines and that allowed me to get a bit more open space and get the rewards," she said. 

Cunningham maintained belief and focus after missing two set-shots from close range during an even first quarter. 

"You have to put it out of your mind. I thought I hit the ball well, but just didn't judge the breeze well down that end and overcompensated for it," she said.

"You find out what works for you. I treat kicking for goal like a free throw in basketball and try and keep it simple. I try to keep to the same routine and it comes down to the ball drop, making sure my head is over the ball and kicking through it."

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Cunningham was selected in the 2017 draft after more than 150 WNBL games and college basketball experience in the United States. She hasn't missed a game despite starting her football transition from scratch.

"I still misjudge the ball in the air. You need to keep your feet moving and eat up the space. That's something I have to work on. I found myself getting to the spot and jumping off two feet, whereas in footy you need to hold that spot and launch. I thought that was better last Sunday," she said. 

"Last year I was learning on the fly and this year I've had a better preparation. I started my pre-season before everyone else (when basketball finished in August) and I've really put more time into my game.

"This year I've improved a lot. Not necessarily on the scoreboard, but I feel more of a whole player rather than just being a target. 

"If I'm not marking it, my job is to bring it to ground so the likes of Kate Hore, Aliesha Newman and Tyla Hanks can get their hands on it. It's about being predictable for each other. 

"I am the big target down there, but knowing they're going to be front and centre with their quickness to snag a few goals."

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