Demons in the details: How Melbourne dominated the Dogs

SOME shrewd off-season recruitments have allowed Mick Stinear to solidify a game style that Melbourne began to experiment with in 2021, and while the round one win over the Western Bulldogs may not have been a landslide on the scoreboard, the way in which the Demons systematically picked their way through the corridor in the first quarter highlighted just how dangerous they will be this year.

Beginning in defence, the addition of former Blue and Saint Alison Brown has assisted in strengthening a backline structure alongside other defensive posts Libby Birch and Brenna Tarrant. Always conscious of having one of the trio sitting as an anchor behind the ball, the other two are able to play more aggressively, pushing up to the contest when it enters the defensive half of the ground. This setup allows the Demons to create turnovers higher up the field and move the ball faster back into their own attack.

Up on the wings, quick, hard-running duo Casey Sherriff and Alyssa Bannan cover the field impressively, supporting in defence but reading the play expertly to transition into attack, while a stacked forward line is able to stretch opposition defences.

Melbourne players enjoy their round one win in 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

The concern may have been that the Demons would win the ball, look up to a forward line of Tayla Harris, Kate Hore, Jackie Parry, Shelley Scott and Daisy Pearce and choose to simply send the ball long and high, backing in the forwards' ability in the air. Instead, the side smartly worked its way into attack, always looking to the corridor to open up angles when going inside 50. Because of this, the forward group found separation and space, creating countless one-on-one opportunities.

Kicking into the wind during the first quarter on Saturday, the Demons managed to pile on three straight goals to the Dogs' sole behind, setting up their eventual win. Two expertly executed passages of play during that first term indicated just how the side is looking to move the ball this year.

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The first began with an aerial contest in defence which saw Birch find Bannan in space near the boundary. Despite fumbling, Bannan quickly moved it to Lily Mithen who drove the ball down the line to Pearce.

At no point does Pearce look to continue down the line, she had eyes only for the corridor where a waiting Tyla Hanks was standing on her own. From there, a classy chip kick over the top to Kate Hore who had also found separation from her opponent, and another to Sherriff who had worked hard down the field to get out the back inside 50, led to the Demons' first goal.

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The key to this possession chain was Pearce's willingness to look inboard, and Hanks' ability to get out into that space on her own. From there, the Dogs' defence was simply caught out of position and Melbourne cut right through.

Later in the quarter, a similar end-to-end passage led to Eden Zanker's goal to close out the term's scoring. Once again beginning with Libby Birch in the defensive 50, the Demons took risks to get the ball back into the middle of the ground.

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Pinpoint kicks to both Shelley Heath and Eliza West flanked by Dogs might not have gained much ground but allowed the Demons to move laterally out of the restrictive back flank to the middle of the ground, further encouraging an attacking spread higher up the ground.

A kick from Megan Fitzsimon right up the middle of the centre square to Parry, and another to Mithen released a running Karen Paxman who was able to find both Pearce and Zanker in one-on-ones close to goal.

The way they were able to work the ball forward meant these set shots were taken within 30m of the goal line, providing them the best possible chance to convert.

Libby Birch finds some space in round one, 2022. Picture: AFL Photos

The Demons played with a confidence that was missing at times in 2021. Players are backing themselves in by foot, and trust that their teammates can at least equal aerial contests, if not win them. Not to mention, they have the luxury of strong markers like Parry and Scott able to push up out of the forward 50 to provide more marking outlets.

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Melbourne's desire to go directly through the corridor, while a host of running wingers and half forwards occupy the width of the ground, makes them particularly difficult to read, not allowing intercepting defenders to leave their direct opponent early to support teammates stuck one-out.

Dominating possession against the Dogs 225-181 and deciding to go by foot 61% of the time, led the Demons to take 50 marks for the game (+10 on the club's 2021 average), giving them time to consider options, rather than rush disposals. Controlling the ball and choosing options carefully is Melbourne's bread and butter.

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