AT MELBOURNE, when it rains, it pours.
The Dees – and injury replacement player Sarah Perkins – overcome one of the longest and most severe injury lists in the AFLW's short history to qualify for the team's first finals appearance.
Over the next few weeks, womens.afl will look at each of the seasons of the 14 AFLW teams, kicking off proceedings with Adelaide and moving alphabetically from there.
Coach: Mick Stinear
Leadership group: Daisy Pearce (captain), Karen Paxman (vice-captain)
2020 finishing position: Third in Conference B, four wins, two losses, 164.5%. Qualified for a preliminary final against Fremantle.
Best win: Melbourne 3.4 (22) defeated North Melbourne 3.2 (20), round one.
There's a few to choose from, including one over Collingwood and the thrashing of West Coast, but for the quality of opponent, it's hard to go past this round one affair. The Dees used a howling Casey Fields wind to their advantage and overran one of the pre-season premiership favourites.
Best individual performance: She often flies under the radar, but Shelley Scott was imperious in very heavy rain against the Western Bulldogs in round two. While most struggled to handle the ball, Scott was a rock at centre half-forward, finishing with 16 disposals and six marks in a match-winning turn.
Club best and fairest candidates: Karen Paxman, Daisy Pearce, Libby Birch, Shelley Scott
NAB AFLW Rising Star nominations: Nil
Debutants: Gabby Colvin, Sinead Goldrick, Niamh McEvoy, Jackie Parry, Krstel Petrevski, Casey Sherriff, Brenna Tarrent
Most improved: A premier midfielder at under-18 level, Tyla Hanks was taken with pick No.6 by the Dees at the end of 2018. She primarily played up forward last year as she adjusted to the top level, but a strong pre-season and a move to the middle saw Hanks' influence on games rise.
Star recruit: The Demons paid handsomely for Libby Birch, but it was an investment worth making. Birch was a rock on the last line of defence, taking numerous goal-saving marks and quickly became an instrumental part of the team, particularly during Meg Downie's illness-enforced absence.
Unsung hero: Maddi Gay doesn't have the external profile of her fellow midfielders, but she's an important cog in Melbourne's engine. Also more than handy up forward, Gay averaged 13 disposals and five tackles in 2020.
- Daisy Pearce to defence. It was a surprising move from Melbourne, with most expecting the Demons skipper to slot back into the middle upon her return from pregnancy, but Pearce's elite reading of the play, her composure and experience was vital in defence.
- The makeshift ruck combination of Eden Zanker and Harriet Cordner. While it's very difficult to replace an All Australian ruck like Lauren Pearce, who missed five matches with a knee injury, the duo more than held their own over the season.
What needs improvement:
- Who knows how to fix it, but injuries and some horrible luck were Melbourne's biggest concern in 2020. Five torn ACLs, Shelley Heath's appendicitis, Lauren Pearce's knee, various bouts of illness, Lily Mithen's ankle and Irish players needing to go home before borders closed due to the coronavirus were just some of the issues besieging the Dees in 2020.
- Over the last few years, Melbourne has been one of the top sides of the competition but has an unfortunate habit of dropping games it should win. It struck again in 2020, handing St Kilda its first win and losing to a strong Carlton side after not taking its chances and squandering a half-time lead.
Season in a song: We Found Love (Rihanna). For a brief period, it looked like Melbourne was going to miss out on finals for a fourth consecutive year due to the slightly unbelievable reason of a global pandemic, but the Dees got through and made it to a preliminary final before the season ended.
Early call for 2021: With five players over the age of 30 – Tegan Cunningham, Daisy Pearce, Paxman, Scott and Downie – it's now or never for the Dees to capitalise on their top-end talent. Preliminary final looks the goods for 2021.
Season rating: 8/10