A PIONEER of women’s football will again lead the Demons this year, with Daisy Pearce appointed captain for the 2021 season.
Pearce, who was Melbourne’s skipper last year, will lead the group for a fourth time, having also been at the helm in the first two seasons of the AFLW competition.
She will be supported by fellow star Karen Paxman, in the role of vice-captain.
The highly regarded players were again recognised by their teammates and coaches for the roles, with senior coach Mick Stinear saying they are the two best representatives for his side.
“Daisy is an outstanding leader, who leads by example on and off the field; high on empathy and social intelligence, she is passionate and invested in seeing our team and club succeed,” he told Melbourne Media.
“She continues to find ways to improve herself while committing to the development of others and our team. Her football knowledge and experience is unrivalled in the competition.
“Paxy (Paxman) has been our most consistent performer across four seasons and continues to push the limits with her training and competitiveness.
“She has invested heavily into the team over the years and has a caring and loving nature that is infectious amongst the group.
Pearce and Paxman will be joined by some emerging youngsters this year, with the club also recognising six future leaders.
Tyla Hanks, Libby Birch, Maddi Gay, Sarah Lampard, Lily Mithen and Kate Hore will all form part of a new-look leadership group for Melbourne, following a more streamlined approach in years gone by.
“The time is right to invest in our future leaders and our leadership group this year reflects that,” Stinear said.
“We have selected six players that possess leadership qualities and have established themselves as consistent performers on and off the field.
“These players will support and learn from our captain and vice-captain, while developing their own leadership style and skills.”
With a range of experience, each player is set to bring a uniqueness to the dynamic group.
At just 20 years of age, Hanks is the youngest of those recognised, having tallied just 14 games to date.
But with a natural ability and all the attributes to become a star of the competition, Stinear is confident she’s ready to push herself further in 2021.
“Hanksy’s (Hanks) skill and knowledge exceeds her age,” he said.
“She’s had an excellent off-season, increasing speed, power, skill and belief, and is ready to influence others and have a significant impact on the competition.”
For Gay, Hore and Lampard, who all have played 21 games, the elevation comes after significant development as players and people.
Joining Melbourne during the 2018 Trade Period, Gay has built on the positive impact she had from the outset, and has become a key voice and influencer among the group.
Hore has also taken things up a notch – the 25-year-old earned All-Australian honours in 2020 – while Lampard’s attitude through two ACL injuries has set her apart from the pack.
“Maddi is a natural-born leader, who has invested heavily into her football and personal development,” Stinear said.
“She’s determined to see the team succeed and is driven to be the best she can be.
“Kate also challenges others in order for us to be our best. She brings maturity and experience to our group, has established elite habits and behaviours and is ready to share her knowledge with others.
“Lampy’s (Lampard) work ethic and resilience has seen her continually develop as a player and leader, and also as a key driver of standards across the program.
“She has built strong relationships with players and staff, and although she missed games through injury over the four seasons, she continues to have a significant impact on the culture of the team.”
And when it comes to being passionate, you can’t go past Birch and Mithen.
With a genuine love and care for their teammates, the two will stop at none to give the Dees the best chance of achieving greatness, in 2021 and beyond.
“Libby is committed to being the best version of herself for the team,” Stinear said.
“She leads by example with elite behaviours and is invested in relationships, to assist in creating an inclusive and successful environment.
“Lily has a tenacious appetite to succeed and is proud to be a Demon.
“She has a great understanding of her on-field strengths and her knowledge of the game allows her to influence others.
“Off the field, she is a much-loved teammate with her infectious energy and zest for life.”
While Melbourne’s approach formally recognises the youth of the team, many other Demons will continue to play important roles for the team – something Stinear believes will hold the group in good stead going forward.
“In addition to our future leaders, we are fortunate to have a group of senior leaders; Shelley Scott, Meg Downie, Shae Sloane, Tegan Cunningham, Lauren Pearce and Chantel Emonson,” he said.
“They lead without titles and bring a range of experience from elite sport, business and life, and will be great support to our captains and future leaders.”
Melbourne’s 2021 campaign is set to kick off on Saturday 30 January, when it takes on Adelaide at Casey Fields from 3.10pm.