Dee-liverance: How the Demons can finally break through

MELBOURNE has always been a team flirting with the ultimate success but falling short time and time again. This season, those mental barriers appear to be all but gone as the side primes itself for another crack at the Lions - a team who has beaten the Dees just twice - in their very first and most recent meetings. 

But how exactly have the Demons reached a second straight Grand Final and, more importantly, how do they win it? 

A defensive brick wall 

Melbourne boasts the best defence in the AFLW this season, conceding a measly 18.9 points per game - the lowest in competition history. This stingy effort is built upon a full ground, full team effort that requires buy-in from each and every player.

Because of that full-ground press, the Demons are allowing their opposition to enter the forward 50 just 21.7 times a game - the second-lowest average in history. Well-structured behind the ball, Melbourne doesn't allow its opposition to get its hands on the ball, and when it does, the Dees force poor disposal to intercept before it can enter their defensive 50. Melbourne's only player with a premiership medal, Libby Birch has registered 92 intercepts for the season, with emerging key defender Tahlia Gillard second with 60. 

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From those limited forward entries, Melbourne allows its opponent to score just a third of the time. It's tough to get the ball into an attacking position, and just as tough to generate a chance to score once there. 

Thanks to Birch, the backline is exceptionally well organised and able to compete both in the air and on the ground. This was never more evident than in the third quarter of the side's preliminary final win over North Melbourne whereby the Demons conceded 18 inside 50s but allowed the Roos just two points. 

Handballing on the run 

From its very first game of the season, a Grand Final rematch against Adelaide, Melbourne put on show its skilful, well-executed handball game and it has served the side well since. Off the back of repetitive drills at training and hard work to become one of the fittest teams in the competition, Melbourne has set a new record for average handballs this season with 108.6 per game. 

At the source, it is midfielder Eliza West and ruck Lauren Pearce who are kickstarting that ball movement by hand, with 68.8 per cent and 61.6 per cent of their disposals this season handballs. 

This handballing game is so effective at moving the ball from inside to the contest to outside runners because of the Demons' ability to place the ball in front of teammates on the move, meaning they don't have to break stride to take possession and continue moving into attack. 

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Genuine versatility 

What has become increasingly evident as the season has gone on is not only how versatile Melbourne's playing list is, but the side's willingness to make strategic use of that asset throughout games. 

In recent weeks coach Mick Stinear has been proactive in games, shifting the magnets to best negate opposition tactics. Sarah Lampard has spent time on the wing, Shelley Heath through the middle, Eden Zanker moved into the ruck last week while Tayla Harris was nursed through the game, while Karen Paxman's move on the ball in the final quarter against North Melbourne proved to be a game changer.  

Each game there are examples - some subtle, some glaringly obvious - of these moves and it has allowed Melbourne to work back into games after finding itself behind or out of control. 

These movements require genuine on-field leadership to keep the side organised as changes occur, and on each line the Demons boast just that. Birch in defence, Paxman and Tyla Hanks through the midfield, Daisy Pearce in attack and Kate Hore as she roams the length of the field.

How they win on Sunday 

While Brisbane's defence has been very impressive this season, reading the ball well and putting bodies on the line, they do like to compress the ground and defend quite high. What Melbourne has available to it is speed in attack. The likes of Alyssa Bannan and Casey Sherriff can become a really dangerous pair if the Demons can get the ball over the back and force a leg race toward goal. 

In order to achieve this, Melbourne must be willing to sit in its back half to create space toward goal - which can be a dangerous prospect - and then clear the Lions' defensive wall out to attacking runners.

Another key to felling the Lions is preventing them from finding space outside the contest. Melbourne has been the best contested ball team in the competition this season, averaging 113.7 contested possessions per game, while also forcing the opposition into winning more contested ball than uncontested.  

By keeping the ball in close and only allowing it out into space on their own terms, the Demons have done well to maintain control of games, and if they can execute this against Brisbane that will make life tough for a Lions side that has been so efficient at making use of its outside run. 

This takes real discipline in layering around the contest and at both ends of the ground, trusting that those at the source can win the ball or negate the opposition, and remaining outside of that to provide another outlet, or defensive layer. 

If the Demons can keep the game in tight and prevent Brisbane from moving with speed and into space, they will be in with a genuine chance of scoring their first AFLW Premiership. That, however, is easy to say and tough to execute, but if anyone can it is Melbourne. 

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