Melbourne hardwoman Karen Paxman had a message for the injured Daisy Pearce before the Demons vanquished Fremantle in their AFLW Qualifying Final on Saturday.
“I said to her before the game she just has to be patient and let us do it for her this week and hopefully we see her back soon,” Paxman said after her starring performance in the 17-point win.
And do the job they did, giving Pearce the chance to race the clock to recover from a knee injury in time to take on Adelaide in the Preliminary Final next week.
Will she be ready? Melbourne coach Mick Stinear was staying optimistic, but the ball will be in Pearce’s court.
“She’s obviously doing everything she possibly can,” Stinear said.
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“We plan for the team if she’s not in and if she’s fit and available obviously that’s a huge boost to our team.
“I think we won’t know until midweek as to how we’re tracking for next week.
“She’s not willing to accept the time of length of the injury. She’ll let it be determined by what she physically can or can’t do.
“It’s still a reality for us, but we’re not prepared to say she can’t until we officially get that message.”
Pearce watched the Demons lead from start to finish from the bench at Casey Fields.
“Certainly you miss Dais out there, but it’s nice this year we’ve got a full team of contributors and that’s how we’re winning at the moment, everyone’s stepping up and getting it done,” Paxman said.
“She’s rapt, but it was tough for her to sit on the sidelines. She’d love to be out there and we’d love her out there with us.
“It was handy having her on the bench. She sees the game well and definitely gave us a few pointers as we rotated on and off.”
While the venue is yet to be confirmed, the Demons will head to Adelaide with the belief they can knock over the AFLW powerhouse after taking the points at Casey Fields in March.
“I think it’s a huge challenge, they’ve (Adelaide) had a week off, so they might come in a bit fresher, but the advantage of today is we’ve had a finals hitout against a team that is strong and physical and our girls have pulled up well, so they can take that experience and try and deliver a similar standard they brought today,” Stinear said.
WHY MISSING FINAL ISN’T HEARTBREAK FOR PEARCE
Football is full of hard luck stories. This isn’t one of them even though.
Daisy Pearce will miss Melbourne’s qualifying final on Saturday after she damaged the medial collateral ligament in her knee last weekend.
She still describes the 2021 season as one of her most enjoyable.
The 32-year-old Melbourne captain says it’s probably because of the joy and balance that her two-year-old twins Roy and Sylvie have brought to her life.
“I’ve probably never enjoyed my footy more and whether that’s because I do have good balance or perspective or if footy is now such a great outlet from the craziness of home life,” she says.
“And it’s partly just my age, too.
“You get to an age where you start thinking you’re not going to get to do it forever, so I’ve just started feeling that I’m getting a lot of enjoyment out of it and being grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had playing the game.”
At the end of the 2020 AFLW season, one of the most recognisable faces in women’s footy, was contemplating her future.
Having made a successful return to the field after spending a year away having given birth to her twins, Pearce was sitting in the office of her Melbourne coach Mick Stinear wondering whether she should play on in 2021.
There was a lot to weigh up, given the 2020 season had been a monumental juggle with elite sport, her burgeoning footy commentary career, her job as a midwife and her one year olds.
In the end, she decided to play on.
“I think I might have said: ‘Oh, it can’t be as hard as the year I’ve just done, yeah I’ll go again’,” she recalls.
“But it’s just as hard, they’re just different challenges. (My kids) sleep better, but they’re a whole lot more mobile and headstrong. It’s a different type of exhausted. They’re coming to an age now where they were there on the weekend, and it was the first time I really noticed them absorbing what was really going on.
“They turn on the telly now and if there’s a game on they just think it’s mum, even if it’s AFLM.
“It could be Sydney playing Adelaide in the men’s competition and they’ll think it’s mum.”
Heading into season 2021, the Demons were one of the most talked-about teams, having farewelled six players in the trade period including Aliesha Newman (to Collingwood) and veteran (and former co-captain) Elise O’Dea, who headed to Carlton after playing 28 games in the red and blue.
In many footy circles, the rejuvenation of the side was labelled a “rebuild”, and pressure was placed upon the shoulders of Pearce and the likes of veteran Karen Paxman to ensure the new-look squad kept on track.
Pearce didn’t worry about the outside talk; she had nothing but complete faith in the direction the club was taking.
“Whilst I don’t get involved in any decisions, I’d been kept across what the plan was and where they thought they were heading,” she says.
“At my age and where I’m at in my career I didn’t really see myself wanting to sit around for a rebuild, so I was interested to know what was going on.
“But I always had great faith we were putting ourselves in the position to compete for the premiership, which is what we’re aiming to do.”
Then, as the floating fixture was finalised, the Dees were handed the toughest final three weeks: facing premiership contenders Adelaide, Fremantle and Brisbane in succession.
They beat all before them.
And while they go into Saturday’s qualifying final as favourites over Fremantle, Pearce says the Dees are not content.
“We have the sense that our real work starts now, rather than be too satisfied that we made it,” she says.
“We’re very much focused on not just making it, but getting to work now, but it is a good achievement given some of the talk in the off-season … it had been predicted that we’d just fall away, so I’m really proud of how our girls have stood up.”
And she’s not concerned about the impact of her being sidelined might have either, because the Demons have faced and overcome plenty of challenges already this season, including beating Fremantle in Perth without their head coach who was back in Melbourne awaiting the birth of his second child, and then beating ladder-leaders Brisbane their captain after Pearce damaged her knee in the opening 90 seconds of the game.
So, she’ll definitely be boundary side on Sunday. And just try stopping her from screaming out as much encouragement as she can.
STUNNING SACRIFICE BEHIND PIES COACH’S FOOTY DREAM
When Steve Symonds arrived at Collingwood in the middle of 2019 as the newly appointed head coach of the club’s AFLW team, he came armed with a one philosophy upon which he wanted to build his team: family.
Symonds, who joined the Pies after the sacking of their inaugural coach Wayne Siekman, wanted to make sure that whoever came into the four walls of the club – player, staff member, contractor, visitor – felt like they belonged.
But what’s interesting in this philosophy is that while the 50-year-old has brought “family” to the club, the job forces him to spend extended periods away from his own.
When he took on the Collingwood role, the entire Symonds family made the decision that now 22-year-old daughter, Molly, 13-year-old son, Billy, and wife, Trudi, would stay behind in Adelaide to keep their school, work and social lives as undisturbed as possible and Symonds would come and go as often as possible.
That plan seemed simple enough, until COVID struck down the 2020 season and border restrictions complicated easy flow between states. He spent much of last year back in SA during Melbourne’s lockdown, conducting team and recruiting meetings over Zoom, but headed back to Victoria for AFLW pre-season.
Symonds returned home to Adelaide last weekend for the final home and away match of the 2021 season, when the Magpies took on the Crows at Norwood Oval.
It had been close to three months since he’d last hugged his family.
Of course, coaching a Melbourne-based team with family still in Adelaide is a sacrifice, but he’s philosophical about it.
“I get to do something that I love … I get challenged daily and I love the learnings I’m getting and I’m really passionate about the group I’m working with.
“That’s the easy part of the job.
“Obviously distance from family is a tough one and I think my family are making a lot more of a sacrifice than me, just little things, like (Trudi) running kids around to two sporting events and getting from A to B means she misses out on things.
“But for me going backwards and forwards means for all the major events in our life, I’m able to be a presence there.
“We’re making it work. It’s always a juggle.
“My wife has probably been one of my biggest supporters along the way and she pushes me to try and get the best out of myself and she knows that this is an opportunity for myself to develop as a person and develop as a coach and have an influence … she strongly encourages me to continue to pursue what I love doing no matter how hard it is.
“We’ve got a really strong relationship, so it allows us to do that and talk openly about it and make things work.”
The Magpies are now his second family.
And this week, on the eve of his side’s qualifying final against North Melbourne, Symonds signed a two-year contract extension.
“Family’s not the buzz word for us for this season,” Symonds explains.
“Family is the foundation that I wanted to base our program on.
“When I came in two years ago, we spoke about trying to replicate the feeling of being in a second family.
“We try and bring those values inside our four walls and our whole culture is based around it and we’d like to think that when people watch us play or if they see us out in public, that they’d pick up on the characteristics of us being a really tight-knit team: loyalty, care, support, allowing people to be themselves, knowing that each person has an attachment no matter what their situation is and knowing they always have a place they can go to be themselves and feel safe.”
Symonds joined Collingwood midway through 2019 after three seasons coaching Norwood in the SANFLW, leading the Redlegs to a premiership in the inaugural 2017 season.
He replaced former coach Wayne Siekman, under whom the Pies won only seven of their 21 AFLW games in three seasons.
Since taking over, Symonds has led the side to back-to-back finals campaigns.
Symonds says the sense of family in his team is what will not only drive the Pies success in Saturday’s qualifying final, but to continued success in the future too.
— Collingwood v North Melbourne, Victoria Park, Saturday, 3.10pm
— Melbourne v Fremantle, Casey Fields, Saturday, 1.05pm