Changing of the guard: Youth driving Dees in back-to-back flag push

JUST months after winning its first AFLW premiership, changes at Melbourne signal a momentous changing of the guard as it prepares its eighth season.

The public heart and soul of Melbourne for so long has been Daisy Pearce, while behind the scenes the impact of senior assistant coach Jane Lange has been equally valuable.

For season 2023, however, the Demons will be without both women after Pearce's retirement and Lange's choice to step away from AFLW to focus on family and an impressive career in education.

Melbourne AFLW assistant coach Jane Lange during a training session at Gosch's Paddock on November 17, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

These departures follow Shelley Scott's move to Geelong last year and a ruthless 2020 off season where the Demons said goodbye to much loved players in Elise O'Dea, Harriet Cordner, Maddy Guerin and Aleisha Newman in order to load up with talented youth through the draft. That draft bore the likes of Alyssa Bannan, Tahlia Gillard, Megan Fitzsimon and Maggie Caris.

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Notably, Scott and O'Dea were appointed co-captains in 2019 when Pearce spent the year on the sidelines.

While a handful of inaugural Demons remain, including head coach Mick Stinear, star ruck Lauren Pearce, five-time All-Australian Karen Paxman and key premiership duo Sarah Lampard and Lily Mithen, 2023 is the year that Melbourne's new era will properly take control.

Kate Hore, who joined the club in 2018, was Melbourne's vice-captain and best and fairest winner last season, and seems the obvious choice to take over the captaincy with Pearce retired.

Eden Zanker's versatility, height and skill has allowed her to be used across multiple lines since she was drafted in 2017 with pick No.6.

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2021 Rising Star Tyla Hanks was a top-10 draft pick ahead of the 2019 season, and is arguably the side's most important midfield asset.

Libby Birch was traded to Melbourne for the 2019 season and has since become a true leader in defence, named All-Australian twice in the process.

Meanwhile the skills of players like Tayla Harris, Gillard and Bannan significantly shaped the way Melbourne played in its premiership season.

These players have been taking on progressively more responsibility in recent years, both on field and off, but this year will be the true test of the club's culture.

Melbourne players celebrate winning the 2022 NAB AFLW Season Seven Grand Final. Picture: AFL Photos

Without ever-present leaders Pearce and Lange at the helm, Melbourne must find a way to continue the significant growth that saw it break through for that first flag.

If the Demons can do that with the strong assets at their disposal, there is no reason they can't become the first AFLW club to win back-to-back flags.