What we learned in AFLW: Adelaide, Melbourne book their Grand Final tickets

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Arnell hopeful of rapid AFLW professionalisation (0:47)

Former Brisbane and Carlton player Lauren Arnell says she's hopeful the AFLW will soon attract more money and staff as the league hurtles towards professionalisation. (0:47)

As Melbourne president Kate Roffey said while embracing her club's players as they came off the MCG on the weekend, "one more to go".

In a season that has somehow seemed to drag on for quite a while but has also disappeared in no time at all, we have one last AFLW game to look forward to - and what a cracker it's set to be!

In what was two tight clashes over the weekend, the preliminary finals took place in Melbourne and Adelaide this weekend with the Demons claiming a narrow victory over reigning premiers Brisbane, and the Crows securing the all-important chocolates over Fremantle.

Now, both victors will head to Adelaide Oval for the last showdown of the competition.

But before we get to sizing these teams up ahead of the clash and excitedly think about the mouthwatering match-ups we could be greeted to (Randall vs. Pearce, Phillips vs. Birch), let's take a look back at the main takeaways from preliminary final weekend.

It was a weekend that once again had milestones with Melbourne's Karen Paxman playing her 50th game and Brisbane's Jade Ellenger her 25th, and the first ever AFLW match at the MCG.

So, after an historic day of footy, here's what we learned in the AFLW:


Melbourne reach their maiden AFLW Grand Final

The Dees have finally done it, booking their spot in The Big Dance for the first time in club's history.

And they did it in textbook Melbourne footy conditions: that is, four seasons in one game at the MCG. It drizzled, then the sun came out, then there was a bit of wind, then the drizzle came back, then there was some sun again. The perfect footy spectator experience...

Under the bright lights and rain, the Demons outmatched Brisbane in an extremely tight and heated contest. There was so much defensive pressure, in fact, that each team only slotted one goal each by half time.

Then, the home side found some steam and capitalised on separate moments of opportunity to boot three goals in the premiership quarter and secure their lead. In the final minutes of the game, Brisbane's Shannon Campbell and Greta Bodey both ht the scoreboard to give us a grandstand finish, but it was too little, too late - the siren sounding with Melbourne still four points ahead and going home with a 5.3 (33) to 4.5 (29) result.

Throughout the game, Brisbane showcased their incredibly strong pressure but Melbourne's composure didn't break under it. The close contest saw clean ball skills, a lot of pace around the ground and breakout goals that decided the end score.

Young speedster Alyssa Bannan was the main game-changer on the day, booting three of Melbourne's five goals. In one impressive bit of footy, she streamed away from Brisbane skipper Bre Koenen in a moment that epitomised the end result: Melbourne just a few quick steps ahead of the Lions, who never gave up and chased them all the way.

And it's that youth -- Bannan, Eliza McNamara, Shelley Heath and Liv Purcell -- that could prove very dangerous against Adelaide next week.

Daisy Pearce is coming full circle and heading to her first Grand Final

There's something romantic about Melbourne, led by superstar Daisy Pearce, finally reaching the last game of the season.

Many AFLW fans have alluded to it on social media, but it's true that no matter how well deserved an accolade may be, nothing in sport is given - which makes it even more of a special moment that Pearce, the first player on the AFL women's books, gets to run out on the big stage.

Sports journalist Daniel Cherny said it best: "No one deserves anything but it would have been criminal for Daisy Pearce never to play an AFLW Grand Final."

The Demons skipper already has a full bag of accolades, including multiple All-Australian blazers, two club best and fairests and three AFLW players' best captain. In the VWFL (Victorian Women's Football League), she's a 10-time premiership player and seven-time league best and fairest winner.

Now, after next weekend (touch wood we have no health and safety protocols or injuries before Saturday), she'll be an AFLW Grand Final player and potentially a premiership player. It's poetry in motion and a deserving moment in the AFLW great's history books.

Gallant Lions denied back-to-back flags

Brisbane were looking in good contention to go back-to-back but Melbourne stopped them in their tracks. The Queenslanders had clean skills and quick feet but were unable to get the upper hand, which usually comes from their pace and pressure. Unfortunately for them, in this final, the Dees were able to equal and better them in those crucial areas - and the home side had a few clever and quick goals that made the difference.

The reigning premiers still have a lot to like from the season; they saw experienced players continue to step up, such as Emily Bates and Ally Anderson, who've had a 21.3 and 16.7 average disposal count respectively this, wingers Orla O'Dwyer and Sophie Conway have gone from strength to strength, winning the ball on the outside, spoiling goals and scoring their own, and a lot of young guns, such as Zimmie Farquharson and Ruby Svarc, coming through the ranks and showing a lot of promise.

The disappointment of losing the preliminary final over the weekend will no doubt sting but we've seen incredible resilience and fighting spirit from this club in throughout the league's history. How the next competition expansion hits them will be interesting but if history is anything to go by, they'll be ready to create some chaos in the increasingly looking-likely August start next season.

Adelaide are the Grand Final hosts, yet again

After a convincing win over Fremantle in the preliminary final on Saturday afternoon, the Crows are headed to another Grand Final. They'll be hosting Melbourne on Saturday at 12:30pm (AEST) after finishing ahead of them on the home and away ladder.

This will be the fourth time Adelaide play in the Grand Final and the third time they've hosted. In the six years of the league, the only decider they've not played in was 2018 when the Western Bulldogs beat Brisbane.

The road to this year's big showdown has been one of dominance. They've only lost one game all competition, which was to the Bulldogs by one point in Round 6, and finished as minor premiers, beating Melbourne with a superior percentage.

Over the weekend, they had a resounding victory over the Dockers by 14 points: 6.4 (40) to 4.2 (26). They kept control of the game despite the high-pressured and at times scrappy contest. Captain Randall and star player Phillips were crucial to the win. As was Ash Woodland -- who's already taken out the leading goalkicker award -- who in booting two majors during the game became the first AFLW player to kick 20 goals in a single season.

It's now on route to another Grand Final for the side that's got experience on their side.

Fremantle bow out in another 'nearly' season

The Dockers now finish their season with a gallant loss to Adelaide after a turbulent season with plenty of upsets, and a lot of resilience and strength shown in the face of them.

They spent a good portion of the season on the road -- 23 days interstate -- to avoid border closures and during that time played four of the other five of last year's finalists. The club had COVID and health and safety protocols tear through their camp and dealt with injury disruptions to key players, such as Kiara Bowers and Janelle Cuthbertson. Yet, they still got within sniffing distance of the Grand Final -- again -- and proved they're a top-tier side able to contend with the strongest in the comp.

Throughout the season they maintained a concrete defensive line, had a spread of goal contributors, including a number of spectacular moments from Ebony Antonio, and brought solid tackling pressure.

And perhaps their biggest strength is team cohesion. Not only do they trust each other and back each other in to play their given roles but seem to have an understanding of how their teammates play.

The captaincy of Hayley Miller must also get a special mention, as this season she really stepped up as a player who leads by example and lifts her team in their moments of need. No doubt, she'll help her side regroup and we'll see a raring to go purple side in just a few months' time.

Buckle up, there's only one more game to go!