Melbourne's AFLW fairytale isn't over yet - just another chapter is written

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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)

Ahead of the AFLW Grand Final over the weekend, many spoke of the 'the Melbourne Demons fairytale'.

They wanted to see Daisy Pearce, the first AFLW-signed player, finally hold up the coveted premiership cup alongside her team who have fought so hard over the years for the ultimate glory.

But it wasn't meant to be.

The Adelaide Crows cemented their reign, and their dynasty, by claiming victory over the visiting side. Melbourne left Adelaide with disappointment as the overarching emotion with another close crack at the top spot written into their story.

And it's a story that isn't over yet. It takes a long time to write a fairytale and this loss, although a bittersweet one, is just another chapter in their arc towards the triumph.

One of the biggest areas of growth for the Melbourne side in the years they've been in the competition has been an honest belief in themselves and a trust in what they can do. It's something that develops over time and evolves through the contributions of each person involved in the club.

In a post-match interview after the Grand Final, the Dees skipper spoke of how Mick Stinear addressed the playing group. She said he told them to be "proud of the steps forward we've taken as a group this year".

"We spoke about the genuine belief we've now got that we probably haven't achieved in other seasons," Pearce said.

"We've thought we were near abouts but now we have that belief -- obviously we need to go away and do a bit more work -- but that's something that you can't manufacture or plan for, it just comes to you in funny ways.

"We genuinely have that now. Now we just have to get back to work."

It also develops through playing quality football with high levels of success. This home and away season, Melbourne registered nine wins from 10 matches, with Adelaide the only team able to conquer them.

Their wins were substantial too. They started the season with a 24-point triumph over the Western Bulldogs, which was followed by a 16-point win over Richmond and then a 41-point win over St Kilda. The most notable, significant margin of the season was the 88-point history-making smashing against Fremantle in Round 9.

Despite that game being against a depleted Dockers side due to health and safety protocols, Melbourne deserves recognition and credit for capitalising on opportunities to such a huge extent, finishing with a scoreline that read 16.11 (107).

Their percentage for the season was only beaten by one team, the Crows, who kept them from claiming the minor premiership or getting a home Grand Final.

This success was built upon the achievements from the last season. In 2021, Melbourne finished fourth on the ladder with 28 points, the same amount as the top three who beat them on percentage. They had a significant win over Fremantle in the qualifying final but then lost the preliminary final to Adelaide - by 18 points.

In 2020, the season was cut short ahead of the finals series due to COVID when the Demons were in a strong position, after beating GWS in a semifinal.

And before that, in 2019, they fell short of playing in a Grand Final on percentage, when the competition was in its conference structure.

It appears the Crows have been the ever-niggling thorn in Melbourne's side the past two years. The antagonist in the Demons' quest for the eluding premiership cup, you could say.

And it would have been incredibly poetic for Pearce to end the season with a premiership medal around her neck.

In 2016, Pearce was signed as the league's first marquee and entered the semi-professional league with a wealth of experience and a stacked footy resume. In the VWFL (Victorian Women's Football League), where she began playing in 2005 with the Darebin Falcons, she became a 10-time premiership player -- seven times as captain -- and a seven-time league best and fairest winner. She was also club champion five times and was captain for the women's exhibition games before the AFLW took off.

Pearce has often been touted as a pioneer of the league and one of the great faces of it, especially as it, and she, has grown and developed over the years. She's a three-time AFLW All-Australian, including captain in 2017 and vice-captain in 2018, has twice won Melbourne's best and fairest and is a four-time AFLW Players' best captain, as voted by her peers.

Pearce has long been the real deal. But what also makes her a great player and contributor to the competition is her heart that she generously puts on display. Just last week, a video circulated of her announcing to the side Melbourne coach Stinear had been named coach of the year, through tears and genuine emotion.

Many wanted to see that same emotion through the lens of a premiership win this year. But for Pearce, along with players like Karen Paxman who've been at Melbourne since the start, whether they finish their playing careers with premiership medals or not, they have been part of the ever-evolving narrative of the club and its history.

They've done the groundwork upon which the club's success is being built and have played a fundamental and ever-present role in whatever comes next.

The fairytale narrative for the Melbourne Demons is still unfolding and no one knows what happens next. The Grand Final over the weekend is another chapter written in the club's story - one that features lessons, drive and even more belief for the side to take into the next one.

The quest for the ultimate triumph is far from over.