Dais of our lives: Pearce's story one of humour, humility and heart

IN ANNOUNCING the end of her decorated playing career on Tuesday, Daisy Pearce started with characteristic good humour.

"We struggled to iron out a few of the details in the seven-year contract that we were trying to negotiate and instead I'll be making my retirement," she said with a laugh, while her three-year-old twins Roy and Sylvie could be heard playing behind a horde of cameras.

Pearce was one of the first players signed upon the announcement of the AFLW competition in 2016, becoming a marquee player for Melbourne and one of the most recognisable faces in the women's game.

END OF AN ERA Daisy Pearce announces her retirement

A leader in multiple ways, including being the first player to miss a season due to pregnancy and make her return the following year, she bows out a premiership captain and an icon of the sport.

As the first player in the club's women's program, Pearce was even part of a panel to interview potential coaching candidates before the competition's first season seven years ago.

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"Daisy was on the interview panel when I first went for the job, so I've got Daisy to thank for actually being here," coach Mick Stinear said on Tuesday as he paid tribute to a woman who has been by his side for all seven seasons of the fledging competition.

Since that time, the pair have developed a tight bond with regular long phone calls as they drove back to their respective homes after training and games, with each living well outside of Melbourne. Together they built the culture of the Demons' program, the culture upon which last season's premiership was won.

"We've both wanted to win right from the start ... we came short plenty of times and the soul-searching was there at the end of the year," Stinear said.

"What are we going to do, how are we going to get better, and just to share that whole journey together.

"We've both got young families and a friendship that extends well beyond footy, so that's not going to change."

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Check out the highlights of Daisy Pearce's career from seasons one through seven of the AFLW

Starting her AFLW career in a midfield comprised of fellow former Darebin Falcons powerhouses Lauren Pearce, Karen Paxman and Elise O'Dea, Pearce has reinvented herself more than once to best serve her teammates.

Upon her return in 2020 following the birth of her two children, she played across the half backline, offering leadership and skill to the best defensive unit in the league before moving to the forward line, where she ultimately finished her career.

She also celebrated her 50th game last season in Melbourne's round eight win over Gold Coast, a milestone not easy to come by in the AFLW, particularly when considering the season she spent on the sidelines while pregnant.

Part of a Melbourne team that was perennially close to the ultimate success, Pearce led the Demons to their first premiership in November. Post-game, her character was evident as she focused not on herself but other members of the program who often receive less praise.

The public perception of Pearce – her kindness, care and drive to succeed – is something Rhi Watt was well aware of before joining Melbourne ahead of season seven. But landing at the Dees and realising that perception was reality was significant for the 35-year-old.

"Obviously you hear so much external noise, and part of my excitement to join the Dees was to be able to call Daisy Pearce my teammate," Watt said.

"And when you get to the club and realise that external perception is so accurate, it kind of just blows your mind.

"You think, 'How does she do everything, how is she the most incredible mother, the most incredible teammate, the most incredible player?'. She just seems to do it so effortlessly.

"I have been so humbled and proud to call her my teammate."

Daisy Pearce signs a baby after a Melbourne win in the preliminary final against Brisbane on April 2, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

Watt's favourite memory of Pearce on the field speaks volumes of the retiring star's character.

"Obviously there are so many individual acts that she does that are incredible – that goal against North to pretty much secure the Grand Final spot was just classic Dais – but it's the little things she does behind the scenes to support her teammates," she said.

"I'll never forget that game where 'Banno' (Alyssa Bannan) ran from the centre circle and pretty much overtook Dais and it was the funniest thing. But you just saw Daisy (was) just so excited and I think that's what makes her so special. It's how much she just loves to see other people be successful."

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For Libby Birch, who has won premierships with Pearce both at Darebin and now Melbourne, recalling her captain's on-field exploits made her face light up with excitement.

"It was the 2017 VFLW Grand Final, and it was the most important goal. She fended off right in the forward 50 and kicks on her left foot," Birch explains while physically re-enacting the moment.

"I will never forget it. That is my Daisy Pearce moment."

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They played plenty of AFLW matches together, but Libby Birch's favourite moment of Daisy Pearce's career came during Darebin's 2017 VFLW Grand Final

Pearce's professionalism, work ethic and skill that helped raise the level of the Victorian state league has also been widely touted as one of the reasons the AFLW's launch was brought forward to 2017, instead of the initially planned 2020 start.

"I feel like she has actually been a really significant factor in getting ... the VWFL competition at a level that the AFL was ready to consider that maybe we'll have a professional league," Melbourne assistant coach Jane Lange told womens.afl.

"I think her skillset as a player individually, but her drive to push Darebin and challenge our team and our club to be the best that we possibly could was a really significant factor in pushing the quality of the league in that time."

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In a sign of how widely regarded she is across the football community, players from rival AFLW sides and even Victorian premier Daniel Andrews paid tribute to Pearce on social media.

"Congratulations on an incredible career Daisy Pearce, without a doubt you had a huge impact on mine!" Fremantle captain Hayley Miller wrote on Twitter.

"Daisy Pearce changed the game. And not just as a pioneer of AFLW. Her determination, drive, and footy brain is the stuff of legends," premier Daniel Andrews said.

"Football owes Daisy an enormous debt for her willingness to always step up for women’s football, and she has been one of the key faces in building the AFLW competition as THE inspiration for thousands of young girls to pursue their dream of playing football," AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said.

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With her playing days behind her, a coaching role awaits for Pearce with Geelong's men's side as part of the AFL's Women's Coach Acceleration Program, likely sometime this year.

But a more pressing deadline is front of mind for now.

"Geelong (is) not putting any pressure on me to make any decision too soon... the biggest deadline is Roy and Sylvie starting kindergarten on February second," she said with a smile.

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