CARLTON has defied even its own expectations by rising from wooden-spooner to grand finalist in one year.
The Blues team to take on the formidable Crows in Sunday's NAB AFL Women’s Grand Final at Adelaide Oval will be a vastly different one to even the round one side that lost to North Melbourne by six goals.
"We didn't (expect to make the Grand Final) and I certainly don’t think anyone else expected it as well. Coming off the first round in particular, we were totally written off," Carlton defender Gabriela Pound told womens.afl.
"'Harf' (coach Daniel Harford) has helped us improve week by week and I know it's a footy cliché, but it's just been that. He's redefined our definition of success.
"Coming into the pointy end of the season, we've been playing our best footy together and it's just been great to get reward for it."
Carlton qualified for the Grand Final by finishing on top of the Conference B ladder and defeating Fremantle (second-place in Conference A) in a preliminary final by 36 points.
"It (the win against the Dockers) was definitely the best game we've had so far. It was just so good to put four quarters together," Pound said.
"Freo really didn't get a sniff and that's positive coming into this weekend."
Around half the Carlton squad got together at the club to watch their eventual Grand Final opponent, Adelaide, demolish Geelong by 66 points in Sunday's preliminary final.
The Blues led by 17 points in the third term the last time the two sides met, before the Crows overran them in the last and won by 13.
"There's no doubt Adelaide is going to be a tough task. We haven't beaten them before, and they've shown real maturity as a group in the last few games in particular," she said.
"I don't think we're intimidated by that. If anything, we're probably going to be relishing the opportunity. I feel like we step up in the big games.
"It's going to be totally different from round two when we played and that was close, so we'll see how we go."
Pound has taken her game to a new level in 2019, averaging 12.4 disposals and 3.5 marks, up from 7.9 and 1.0 last year. She is also in the Virgin Australian AFLW All Australian squad of 40.
The 24-year-old has yet to miss a game for Carlton in three years, and has formed a strong back five with Nicola Stevens, Kerryn Harrington, Jess Hosking and Jayde Van Dyk.
"I feel mentally I've come into training – and games in particular – hungrier for the ball. I know I'm a good ball-user … it's just about getting the ball into my hands," Pound said.
"If I'm able to help my teammates as well, everything's going to come together. As a backline unit we've been helping each other out and that's a reflection of the team. It isn't a glory role, but I've been feeling really good with the girls there.
"We've had a really good run with injuries, which is a positive and is something successful teams have had. Looking at Richmond and the Bulldogs (AFL premiers in 2017 and 2016 respectively), they were pretty good with injury."
Harford has brought new life to the team since taking the reins some 12 months ago.
"The core group has developed a strong unity and resilience and that's helped us coming into this season. What 'Harf' has done is focused heavily on one week at a time and he's just found that balance. We've really connected as a group," Pound said.
"He's identified that we're not perfect and we're okay with that. We're a hard-working team which has belief in the process and each other and that's what has got us to this point.
"There's no reason we can't go all the way."