05/12/2023

Melbourne defender Libby Birch (Picture: AFLW/Website)

Often renowned for their attacking prowess or their star-studded midfield, it’s the Melbourne Demons’ backline that is much improved in season seven.

With the performances of a few young Demons to go along with solid cameos from more experienced heads, Melbourne is not just a scoring powerhouse but also a steadfast defence.

When looking at Melbourne’s team sheet, it’s easy to point out the brilliant forwards with Kate Hore and Tayla Harris producing consistent efforts in front of goal or to marvel at the ball-winning ability of their midfield of Eliza West, Olivia Purcell, Karen Paxman, and Tyla Hanks.

It is the backline however that deserves praise for its growth and impenetrable nature which makes the Demons such a difficult team to play against. Young defenders Tahlia Gillard and Maeve Chaplin have managed to slot in seamlessly this season to the delight of veteran Demons defender Libby Birch.

Speaking to the media at the AFLW finals launch Birch speaks about the growth of Gillard and Chaplin and how the defenders have found a synergy that has seen them perform solidly across the season.

“It’s been a really great year for the backline because we’ve developed two brilliant young talents in Maeve (Chaplin) and Tahlia (Gillard), that’s the next generation that is coming through,” Birch explained.

“Tahlia earned herself a NAB rising star [nomination] for her performance but Maeve could have easily had the same as well because she’s in red hot form. I think we’ve just come to a nice little connection in the last part of the season where you want to be performing the best that you can and it’s been building from Round One through to Round 10.”

For Melbourne, the season began in style with a rousing win over the reigning premiers in Round One, fast forward ten weeks and their opponent for their qualifying final is the same. Birch explains how they took confidence out of their performance against the Crows not just because of the result but the process.

“I think that Round One match against Adelaide was a really important match for us, I guess for us it was more internally it was to know that we can develop our game style to beat a quality side like Adelaide,” she said.

“We’ve never done that before but I think finals is obviously a different ball game and Adelaide are a very quality side and it’s gonna be on from the first bounce and we are really looking forward to it.”

She also speaks about the rivalry that the two clubs have shared across the years which has become one of the best match-ups in the AFLW’s short history.

“There is no doubt that there is some history between the two teams and it is exciting for fans and for AFL Women’s, there’s no doubt about that and I think it’s going to be a hot contest, it always is and we’re looking forward to it.”

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With their traditional home ground Casey Fields being under development currently, the match between the Demons and the Crows has been scheduled to be played at IKON Park in Victoria. Being in a more central location in Melbourne than Casey Fields is something that the players and supporters are looking forward to this week.

Birch explains that while they enjoy playing at Casey, the chance to draw in fans from right across Melbourne will hopefully get them over the line on Friday night.

“I think it’s an exciting opportunity to play women’s football there, it’s a great ground and unfortunately Casey’s in a redevelopment phase but I think that spot, that inner precinct if we can have fans from everywhere attend then I think that’s pretty special,” Birch said.

“We haven’t had our Melbourne fans from the inner city being able to attend at times so I think that creates an awesome opportunity for that I guess finals atmosphere.”

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