Demons' season review: A long-awaited maiden premiership caps a stellar season

FINALLY breaking through for its maiden premiership, there's not a lot that went wrong for Melbourne in season seven.

Regularly offering up even, team-wide performances, the Demons looked to be the best unit across the course of the season, rarely relying on stars to snag the win, instead enjoying the impact of all 21 players. is looking at each of the 18 AFLW teams' seasons in reverse ladder order.

Melbourne captain Daisy Pearce and coach Mick Stinear lift up the premiership cup after winning the AFLW S7 Grand Final against Brisbane at Brighton Homes Arena. Picture: AFL Photos

Head coach: Mick Stinear

Leadership group: Daisy Pearce (captain), Kate Hore (vice-captain), Libby Birch, Tyla Hanks

Ladder position after home and away season: 2nd, nine wins and one loss, 282.1%

Ladder position after finals: 1st, 12 wins and one loss, 255.8%

Debutants: Georgia Campbell, Maeve Chaplin, Blaithin Mackin (AFLW debut), Jordan Ivey, Samantha Johnson, Charlotte Wilson (club debut)

Milestones: Tayla Harris, Kate Hore (50 games, 50 goals), Sarah Lampard, Lily Mithen, Lauren Pearce, Daisy Pearce, Eden Zanker (50 games), Alyssa Bannan, Megan Fitzsimon, Sinead Goldrick, Eliza West, Charlotte Wilson (25 games)

Rising Star nominations: Tahlia Gillard (round nine)

Retirements: Daisy Pearce

Tahlia Gillard in action during the S7 AFLW Grand Final between Melbourne and Brisbane at Brighton Homes Arena on November 30, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Best team performance

Melbourne's qualifying final performance against Adelaide is one of the best team games seen across the course of AFLW history.

For a long time, the Crows had been Melbourne's hurdle in key matches, often beating the Demons at the mental game, and there were concerns that it was about to happen again when Danielle Ponter kicked the fastest opening goal in AFLW history. Melbourne went into the quarter time break down by 18 points, but the adjustments it made from the second quarter onwards proved the tougher side it had become.

Tyla Hanks steeled the midfield group and Sarah Lampard moved to the wing and snuck forward to kick two goals, and the flow on effect was evident. The Demons stood up to the Crows' pressure around the ball to get their quick handball game going, and from there went on to win through to a preliminary final.

AFLW S7 Highlights: Melbourne v Adelaide

05:43 Nov 4. 2022. 9:12 PM

The Demons and Crows clash in the qualifying finals of the 2022 NAB AFL Women's Competition

Best individual performance

Vice-captain Kate Hore capped off an impressive home and away season with arguably a career-best game against West Coast in round 10.

Offering both attacking output and defensive pressure, Hore controlled Melbourne's forward half as it worked toward a 78-point win. From her 16 disposals, Hore kicked two goals, registered nine score involvements, and offered a record four goal assists, while also laying nine tackles - seven of which were inside 50, coming within one of the competition record.

Ultimately rewarded with All-Australian selection, Hore proved that she is the multi-dimensional player every team craves.

Most improved

An unfortunate injury to key defender Gabby Colvin opened the door for Tahlia Gillard, and the latter took the opportunity with both hands this season.

Gillard played just three games last season, only coming into the side as other players managed injuries. This season she didn't just feature in every game, but was a vital part of the best defence in the league.

Typically playing on the last line, tasked with the most dangerous key forward, Gillard played with an admirable confidence. Her long kicks and strong handballs helped Melbourne to clear opposing forward structures, while she also averaged five one percenters (spoils, knock-ons, smothers and shepherds), the equal-third highest average in competition history.

Star recruit

One of the most in-demand Irish recruits since the competition began, Blaithin Mackin had a significant role to play in the Demons' premiership season.

Her speed and attacking mindset while playing on the wing added another layer of dynamism to the Demons, and while her disposal could still use some improvement, she offered impressive agility when moving through contests.

Mackin kicked Melbourne's first goal in the Grand Final, helping to swing momentum their way, while also playing a key role in the side's impressive qualifying final win over Adelaide.

Bannan's quick-fire hands feed Mackin for mega finish

00:49 Nov 27. 2022. 3:24 PM

Blaithin Mackin earns the all-important first goal for her side with this superb finish on the run

Unsung hero

Despite being the 2021 Rising Star, Tyla Hanks is somehow often forgotten when praise is heaped on Melbourne's midfield.

Arguably the most important member of that midfield group thanks to her intelligence and adaptability, Hanks' performances often allow the likes of Olivia Purcell and Eliza West to excel.

Hanks averaged 17.9 disposals, six tackles and 3.8 score involvements across Melbourne's premiership-winning season.

Tyla Hanks evades Maddy Prespakis during round nine, season seven, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

What went well

The Demons went into season seven with a high-risk, high-reward plan. Their quick handballing game style is one that can cut opponents open when executed well, but can easily be a team's own worst enemy if it is susceptible to opposition pressure.

Fortunately for Melbourne, its skill level and mental strength was high enough to consistently execute the pattern of play across the course of the season. It is not just about each player's skill either, but the willingness of the full playing group to run for one another and work hard in support of teammates.

What made Melbourne great, however, was that it didn't just have its own brand, but took away opponents' signatures at the same time. More often than not, compared to the rest of their season, teams would win fewer disposals and use the ball at a lower efficiency when playing Melbourne.

Karen Paxman runs with the ball under pressure from Kerryn Peterson during the round five S7 match between Carlton and Melbourne at Ikon Park. Picture: AFL Photos

What needs improvement

In a fantastic season, the only real concern for Melbourne that stood out was its accuracy at goal. This is not a new issue for the Demons, in fact they have been dealing with it since the competition began, but due to the weight of scoring opportunities they created it presented as less of an issue.

Given percentage proved to be key in the race for the minor premiership, however, it did become a factor in the end. Scores of 6.10 against St Kilda, 10.13 against the Western Bulldogs and 11.13 against West Coast are the clearest examples, and ultimately the Demons ended 0.3 per cent behind Brisbane at the end of the season, losing the minor premiership by a solitary point.

Off-season focus

Similar to Brisbane, keeping its players together seems to be Melbourne's biggest focus for the off-season. In terms of game improvement, the next layer of the Demons' dominance is again increasing the efficiency of their disposal when under pressure. As they become cleaner in their disposal, the Demons will only become more dominant.