A STUNNING last-quarter goal from Daisy Pearce booked Melbourne’s place in back-to-back Grand Finals, breaking North Melbourne’s heart in the process.
Melbourne got the job done, 5.3 (33) to North Melbourne’s 2.4 (16) in blustery Ikon Park on Saturday afternoon to secure a battle between the season’s first and second seeded teams.
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It wasn’t easy for the Demons, with the overall victory by 17 points, the result – the biggest margin between the two teams – coming after a physical and hard-fought game.
It was a late-game spark of brilliance from Captain Pearce that secured victory, finding his first empty patch of grass in attack all day to swing in and score a huge 35m goal as the crowd roared.
At first, Karen Paxman was the only demon able to find the ball in space, as North Melbourne put immense pressure around the ball, refusing to let Melbourne take the hand control it has become known for this season.
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By halftime, the Roos had recorded 32 tackles and 16 one percent, indicating how difficult they made life for the Demons all over the court.
This pressure caused the usually composed demons to panic at times, particularly when coming out of defence, opening the door for North Melbourne in attack. Melbourne, however, was saved several times by wayward shots, or the ball falling terribly short of the Roos’ goal line.
In defense, the Kangaroos played with a reserve. Their deepest defender, usually Jasmine Ferguson, would sit between Melbourne’s deepest forward and the goal line, while another Roo, often Sarah Wright, then took up space in front. This closed any lanes or headspaces the Demons attempted to generate under 50, severely limiting Melbourne’s ability to score.
The Demons were often caught wanting to move the ball fast, but with the Roos’ well-disciplined backline, they found themselves kicking an over number or, worse, a single Kangaroo ready to take an undisputed mark and push back.
Kearney played for the Roos behind the ball, left to intercept and rebound at will, finishing the game with 10 interceptions from 17 eliminations, while star midfielder Jasmine Garner’s 24 eliminations and nine tackles could not get his team across the line.
For Melbourne, Paxman and Tyla Hanks worked tirelessly to earn a total of 39 eliminations, 10 clearances and 19 tackles for the day, taking their side across the line.
No reward for effort
North Melbourne dominated the third quarter, recording 18 under 50 against Melbourne’s two, but could only score two behinds. The Roos expertly set up to trap the ball in their attacking half and intercepted it at will, but were let down by an inability to take marks close enough to generate genuine goal attempts . For Libby Birch, Maeve Chaplin and Sarah Lampard, there was little respite as they worked tirelessly to bounce back only for it to come straight back.
The Tayla Factor
Tayla Harris has been a reborn woman this season, playing largely in the ruck to heavily involved in on-court games. A left shoulder injury in the first quarter, however, limited her ability to ruck and therefore saw her sit out on offense for the rest of the game. This wreaked havoc on Melbourne’s structures as Eden Zanker was called in to support Lauren Pearce against the Roo duo of Kim Rennie and Emma King and reduced the flexibility of the Demons in attack.
Melbourne will now prepare for the biggest game of the season, a grand final against a rampaging Brisbane on the latter’s brand new bridge in Springfield. For North Melbourne, it’s all over after an impressive season seven.
MELBOURNE 2.0 3.1 3.1 5.3 (33)
MELBOURNE NORTH 1.0 2.2 2.4 2.4 (16)
Melbourne: Fitzsimon, Mithen, Sherriff, Hore, D. Pearce
North of Melbourne: Randall, E. King
Melbourne: Paxman, Mithen, Hanks, Heath
North of Melbourne: Kearney, Garner, Riddell, Wright
Melbourne: Harris (left shoulder)
North of Melbourne: None
Crowd: 5,592 at Ikon Park