The “special forces” powering Melbourne’s AFLW Demons… and it’s no empty trophy cabinet

Call them the dedicated half-dozen demons.

They are the experienced core of Melbourne’s playgroup, who have been there since AFLW’s inaugural season, led by captain Daisy Pearce and longtime deputy Karen Paxman.

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Lauren Pearce, Sarah Lampard and Lily Mithen were also mainstays in the red and blue, with the five players being managed by Mick Stinear, one of only two senior coaches to be in charge of the same club since the debut season of 2017.

Together, the close-knit group aims to make sporting history by leading Australian football’s oldest club to its first AFLW debut in Sunday’s grand final against Brisbane Lions.

“What that would mean is so much bigger because we care so much about each other,” Mithen told AAP.

“I’m sure a lot of other groups have it, but when you feel it yourself, you’re so grateful and proud of the environment you’re in.

“From day one here, it was built by Daise, Paxy, Loz, Lamp, Mick… there were so many key drivers from the start.”

Mithen, fresh out of school in 2017, remembers the first AFLW season as “a shambles”.

Melbourne captain Daisy Pearce is a fan favorite. Recognition: Jacob Ross/AAP

There were just seven rounds and a one-off grand final, which Melbourne narrowly missed out on by a lower percentage than eventual premier Adelaide.

Kate Hore and Eden Zanker joined the Demons for their second season and are now among a group of seven players who have amassed more than 50 AFLW games for Melbourne.

Hore was named vice-captain that season, while Paxman stepped down from his managerial duties.

Under Stinear’s leadership, the Demons have steadily climbed the upper echelons of the ladder, reaching their first Grand Finals last season, but have yet to make a breakthrough.

“A big reason we’ve been consistently successful in terms of wins and losses is that we had this really stable group,” Mithen said.

“It’s a group that challenges but leverages that element of team, connectedness and connectedness.

Longtime Melbourne coach Mick Stinear is aiming to win his first AFLW premiership with the Demons. Recognition: Jacob Ross/AAP

“We’ve built something really special and we don’t have that Premiership to define that success.

“Whether we have that this weekend or not, it’s not really going to change those connections.

“But if we have a Premiership Cup then that’s another really good excuse to catch up in the future, which is something we’re all aiming for.”

Melbourne’s only loss of the season was a thrashing at Brisbane in the fourth round, which ended up at the top of the ladder by a slender margin.

It secured the Lions home field advantage for the grand final, which will be the first competitive game to be played at their new base at the Brighton Homes Arena.

Meanwhile, Richmond star Monique Conti has received some consolation for her second-place finish in the AFLW Best and Fairest Awards.

She was named Most Valuable Player by the Players’ Association 24 hours after Brisbane onballer Ally Anderson was the shock winner of Best and Fairest medal.

The AFL Women’s Grand Final will be broadcast live and free on Channel 7, 7mate and 7plus (see guides).

For the delicious competition we will have expert insight and analysis from Seven’s esteemed group of AFLW callers and hosts including 2022 AFLW Premiership Cup Ambassador Abbey Holmes, Former Geelong Captain Melissa Hickey, Jason Bennett, Jo Wotton, Sam Lane and Nat Edwards.


Sunrise | weekdays from 5:30 p.m. on Channel 7 and

Sunrise | weekdays from 5:30 p.m. on Channel 7 and The “special forces” powering Melbourne’s AFLW Demons… and it’s no empty trophy cabinet

James Brien

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