MELBOURNE will play off for a grand new flag for the first time, defeating reigning premier Brisbane by four points in a preliminary final at the MCG.
Alyssa Bannan was the star of the show, booting three goals in a match-winning turn, with her pace and height too much for the Lions to counter in the 5.3 (33) to 4.5 (29) result.
Brisbane defender Shannon Campbell kicked a rare goal with six minutes remaining to cut the margin to 10 points in the fourth, with Greta Bodey following up with 36 seconds remaining.
Then at the worst possible moment, the Lions conceded a 5-6-5 free kick, handing the ball back to Melbourne at the centre bounce. While Brisbane eventually got the ball into its forward 50, the Demons' pressure ensured it would earn the win.
DEMONS v LIONS Full match coverage and stats
The constantly drizzly conditions in the first quarter favoured Brisbane's high-pressure game, but as the weather dried up, Melbourne's sharp kicking skills and neat hands around the stoppage came to the fore.
Melbourne kicked three stunning goals in the third term to earn the match-winning break: Bannan (streaming away from Bre Koenen), Lauren Pearce (snatched out of the ruck) and Eliza McNamara (a sharp, low tumbler) leading to a nine-point lead.
Veteran Karen Paxman was extraordinary in game No.50, comprehensively shutting down Brisbane star winger Orla O'Dwyer, while Eliza McNamara and Sophie Conway were locked in an intriguing battle on the opposite side of the ground.
After Tayla Harris' star turn against the shorter Campbell the last time they met, Phoebe Monahan took responsibility for the spearhead and shut her out of the game, albeit in conditions not overly suited to talls.
Dakota Davidson could come under MRO scrutiny for an unusual wrestling-style lifting tackle on Lily Mithen, while Lulu Pullar left the ground with trainers after a low smother by Shelley Scott.
Young Dees rise to the occasion
In a promising sign of things to come, Melbourne's win was built not just on the backs of experienced campaigners Daisy Pearce and Paxman, but through 19-year-olds Bannan and McNamara, 21-year-old small defender Shelley Heath (who blanketed Courtney Hodder) and 21-year-old Liv Purcell (10 disposals, seven tackles and four clearances).
Never-say-die Lions nearly pinch the win
These two sides have played in some incredibly tight matches in recent years, with Bodey having had two after-the-siren shots in the past two games. After a period of midfield dominance by the Dees, the Lions flipped the switch in the last 10 minutes, peppering their inside 50, but were just ran out of time.
A moment for the ages
Saturday marked the first official AFLW game at the MCG, with a handful of exhibition women's games having been played before the introduction of the competition. The rain and the opening round of community footy may have kept away a few fans, but the players and coaches relished the opportunity to play on the biggest stage – Kate Hore joking to teammates she had the most experience on the back of her two Auskick matches at the ground.
"It's not how we planned to play out the last two minutes, but that's what good teams do, they push hard right to the final siren. Thankfully, we were able to find a way in the end. The group thoroughly deserve the win, they played their hearts out and that was a brutal game of footy." – Melbourne coach Mick Stinear
"Today, we had our normal really high pressure game, but the oppo also were not far behind us. We normally don't get that, if we can really put the foot down as far as pressure goes, we can drop off the opposition, but today they matched it. There were key little moments that … ended up being the difference." – Brisbane coach Craig Starcevich
Melbourne is into its first AFLW Grand Final, and will take on the winner of Adelaide v Fremantle. If Adelaide win, the match will be played there, while if Fremantle win, the Dees will once again host at the 'G. It's season over for Brisbane.
MELBOURNE 0.0 1.2 4.2 5.3 (33)
BRISBANE 0.1 1.2 2.3 4.5 (29)
Melbourne: Bannan 3, L. Pearce, McNamara
Brisbane: Smith, Davidson, Campbell, Bodey
Melbourne: Paxman, Bannan, McNamara, L. Pearce, Mithen
Brisbane: Bates, Dawes, C. Svarc, Grider, Hickie
Brisbane: Pullar (lower leg)
Crowd: 6,436 at the MCG
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