Match report: Zanker the hero as Dees open 2020 with narrow win

THERE might be an AFLW answer to Lazarus. 

Young Demon Eden Zanker's afternoon – and possibly her season – looked over as her lower left arm flopped grotesquely on her journey to the bench during the first half of Melbourne's two-point win over North Melbourne.

DEES PIP ROOS Full match coverage and stats

Moments earlier, Melbourne's 2018 top-10 draft pick provided a highlight-reel moment when she audaciously stiff-armed Kangaroos gun Emma Kearney.

Zanker was somehow back on the ground only minutes later – it was later described as a "stinger" – and was almost immediately involved in the Demons' second goal, which gave them a one-point half-time edge.

AFLW Match Highlights: Melbourne v North Melbourne

05:01 Feb 8. 2020. 5:13 PM

The Demons and Kangaroos clash in Round 1 of the AFLW

Even better was to come.

North Melbourne struggled to take full advantage of Casey Fields' infamous cross-wind but still went to three-quarter time with a five-point lead thanks to Ash Riddell's sterling efforts.

Only five goals were scored to that stage but they were all to the end Melbourne was heading.

Forward pressure leads to Dees' first goal in 2020

17:05 Feb 8. 2020. 3:53 PM

Some great forward pressure from Kate Hore results in a shot on goal and the Demons' first goal in AFLW season 2020

In fact, Tegan Cunningham's set-shot behind in the third term was the sole point registered at the opposite end.

There was almost certainly going to be one moment that decided what was a tense contest all afternoon – and it arrived five minutes into the last quarter.

Kate Hore, a star all day for the Demons, attacked the Sherrin with vigour in the middle, enough to spill the ball to teammate Ainslie Kemp.

Irish recruit Gilroy makes her presence known on debut

00:23 Feb 8. 2020. 4:35 PM

Roos' Irish debutante Aileen Gilroy introduces herself to Aliesha Newman with a crunching tackle over the boundary

The rest of the passage happened in fast-forward as Kemp spotted Zanker surging a mile ahead of the play and managed to find her with a neat pass.

Zanker made no mistake, bolting to the top of the goalsquare and giving Melbourne the lead for good.

Demons pinch half-time lead with great team goal

00:29 Feb 8. 2020. 4:02 PM

Kate Hore gets on the end of some great teamwork and pressure from Melbourne's forwards to give them a narrow lead heading into half-time

The Roos, one of the competition's flag fancies, had what proved one last chance but the Demons' defence, led superbly by Libby Birch all day, hung on stoutly.

Melbourne's two-point triumph capped champion midfielder Daisy Pearce's return to football after giving birth to twins, 694 days after her last on-field appearance.

Is 50m too harsh a penalty?
It was a tough day to move the ball forward accurately, because of Casey Fields' infamous windy conditions. With that in mind, North Melbourne was the beneficiary of three 50m penalties in two sequences in the opening term. The first came after a brilliantly weighted Jasmine Garner kick found Daisy Bateman, who was taken to the goal mouth for a simple shot. Then there was a double 50m penalty that propelled Tahlia Randall inside 50. Regardless of if they were there, given AFLW players are not kicking the ball as far as their AFL peers, should the game's biggest penalty be shorter?

Zanker's miraculous recovery
Demon Eden Zanker packed an incredible amount into the final five minutes of the first half. First, there was her don't argue on 2018 League medallist Emma Kearney, followed by her suffering what appeared to be a game-ending – or even season-ending – arm injury in a tackle. Zanker's lower left arm looked floppy as she jogged from the ground but she was back on the field within minutes. A Tegan Cunningham tackle deep in attack presented Zanker with another opportunity, as she swooped on the loose Sherrin and dribbled it towards the goal line, where Kate Hore gleefully slotted her second major. Then came her match-winning goal in the final term. Not bad for a 20-year-old.

Eden Zanker leaves the field clutching her arm. Picture: AFL Photos

Did she mean it?
North Melbourne's go-ahead goal in the third term took 10 minutes to arrive and came via Ash Riddell's left boot. Riddell raised her level in the quarter, including winning the opening clearance, and her snap at goal took a vicious turn in the right direction courtesy of the wind. We'll give the Kangaroos star the benefit of the doubt but her coach, Scott Gowans, wasn't so sure post-game. 

Injury blow sours day further
Kangaroo Daria Bannister's day ended early because of an AC joint injury but the severity is still unknown. She looked in a world of pain as she trudged off but North Melbourne will wait for the result of scans to find out the extent of the damage. Teammate Emma King also played through a right knee problem but wasn't overly inhibited. 

Say what?
"From a coaching point of view, it gives the group a bit of belief and it just takes a little bit of pressure off. Obviously, we have to focus on next week now, but you're not chasing a win – that's not your focus – and it just allows you just to focus on improvement without that pressure building up, because previously when we've lost (in round one) that pressure continues to build." – Melbourne coach Mick Stinear 

"It is a setback, and I've quite publicly said what our goals are this season, and I still think we're good enough. Adelaide lost their first game and went on to win the premiership last year, but you still want to win every game you can. These are the ones that define your season, too, because if you lose two or three by two, three, four points, it really mucks you up. It's just one of those things, we go down to Launceston next week, against GWS, and it's a must-win – we just have to perform." – North Melbourne coach Scott Gowans

Ashmore strikes early with classy banana

00:31 Feb 8. 2020. 3:27 PM

Kaitlyn Ashmore is rewarded for a strong tackle against the goal line, then converts from against the boundary

What's next?
Melbourne has a quick turnaround to face the Western Bulldogs at Whitten Oval on Friday night, while North Melbourne will seek its first win of the season against Greater Western Sydney in Launceston next Saturday.

FULL FIXTURE Every round, every game

MELBOURNE                  0.0       2.2       2.3       3.4 (22)
NORTH MELBOURNE     2.1       2.1       3.2       3.2 (20)

GOALS
Melbourne: Hore 2, Zanker
North Melbourne: Ashmore, Bateman, Riddell

BEST 

Melbourne: Hore, Birch, Paxman, Zanker, O'Dea, Pearce

North Melbourne: Riddell, Garner, Kearney, Bruton, Randall, Hardiman 

INJURIES 
Melbourne: Nil 
North Melbourne: Bannister (collarbone/shoulder)

LATE CHANGES
Melbourne: Nil
North Melbourne: Nil 

Reports: Nil

Crowd: 3500 at Casey Fields