MELBOURNE has kept its hopes of a Grand Final berth in the inaugural NAB AFL Women’s competition alive with a remarkable two-point victory over Adelaide at TIO Stadium in Darwin.
The Demons set up the win over the Crows by dominating most of the second half, however last-gasp goals to Adelaide’s Kellie Gibson and Sarah Perkins in the final minutes ensured a thrilling finish in front of 5100 fans.
After being held scoreless in the first quarter, Melbourne fought back to win 5.4 (34) to 5.2 (32).
When Aliesha Newman scored Melbourne’s fifth at the 10-minute mark of the final term to give the Demons a 14-point lead it seemed settled, but Gibson’s goal after 14 minutes and Perkins' follow-up just 60 seconds later set up the nail-biting finish.
In a fast and sometimes bruising encounter, it was Adelaide with the bulk of the Northern Territory crowd behind it, thanks to its training base in Darwin and a number of Territory players on its list.
The big-name players from both sides delivered with Adelaide’s Erin Phillips getting the fans out of their seats in the first quarter with a spectacular mark in the forward pocket and Melbourne captain Daisy Pearce leading from the front with decisive plays all over the ground and her first goal for the season.
A win to Adelaide would have secured a Grand Final berth and kept alive its hopes of hosting the first ever AFLW finale, but with one round to play Melbourne now enters the mix as it sits level on points with the Crows, albeit significant percentage behind - 112.6 per cent to the Crows' 159.0.
Adelaide coach Bec Goddard acknowledged the loss amounted to a missed opportunity and said the Crows let themselves down.
“They were much better than us, our skills under pressure weren’t good enough,” she said.
“Our attack on the footy was really poor.”
Unsurprisingly Melbourne coach Michael Stinear was very satisfied with his team’s effort after the first quarter.
“A win on the road was really important for us after being a bit flat with our efforts last week and this young group now knows what it takes and we put the pressure back on other teams who have to perform,” he said.
The Crows now have to beat Collingwood in Melborune next week to book their place in the Grand Final against the Brisbane Lions, and Goddard said Adelaide had to approach the game as though it was a final.
“We gave ourselves an opportunity where we won four games so we can’t be too hard on ourselves because we have played some good footy,” she said.
“We are capable of playing good footy. We showed in patches tonight that we can do it and next week it’s a must win.”
Melbourne must either rely on Adelaide losing next week to qualify for the Grand Final, or register a huge win over Fremantle to overtake the Crows on percentage.
But Stinear said the Demons’ first priority will simply be winning.
“We just need to win and if we’re in a position where we can extend the lead then we’ll just get the girls to continue playing four quarters,” he said.
“Freo played really well last night and got a lot of confidence from the win. You could see them start to play their style of footy. They’ll be a great challenge for us.”
Doing it all
Melbourne captain Daisy Pearce is already one of the superstars of the competition, and she made it abundantly clear why in the second quarter. She was key to the Demons pulling themselves back into the match after a scoreless opening term. Two moments illustrated her influence. One minute she was kicking Melbourne’s second goal deep in the forward line and a few minutes later she was taking a classy goal-saving mark on the last line of defence.
Adelaide is on the road again travelling to Melbourne to play Collingwood at Olympic Park Oval on Sunday. A win should be enough to secure that elusive Grand Final berth given its superior percentage, 159 to Melbourne’s 112.6. Melbourne hosts Fremantle at Casey Field on Saturday.
From the winner’s rooms
Melbourne coach Michael Stinear: “Tonight it felt like we played three quarters, Adelaide probably got the better of us late. That first quarter cost us a bit but if we can play four quarters we’ll see where that takes us.”
From the loser’s rooms
Adelaide coach Bec Goddard: “Each week has felt like a final. Tonight felt like we lost a final.”
ADELAIDE 2.1 3.1 3.1 5.2 (32)
MELBOURNE 0.0 2.1 4.3 5.4 (34)
Adelaide: Riley, Bevan, Randall, Gibson, Perkins
Melbourne: Berry, Pearce, Mifsud, Scott, Newman
Adelaide: Foley, Bevan, Randall, Randan, Phillips
Melbourne: Pearce, Newman, Smith, Berry
Umpires: Andrew Crosby, Brodie Raynor and Nathan Toner