In-form Melbourne Demons impressively clinched an AFLW finals berth with a thrilling five-point victory over flag fancies Fremantle Dockers in oppressive conditions on Sunday.
Amid stifling heat, where temperatures hovered over 30 degrees at bounce down, the Demons blitzed the notoriously slow-starting Dockers early and then held off their fast-finishing opponents to prevail 5.7 (37) to 4.8 (32) at Fremantle Oval.
The Demons led by 27 points in the first half but were almost overrun by comeback specialists Dockers, who hit the front midway through the final quarter.
But a huge mark and goal moments later from Maddison Gay proved the game-winner.
“I was a bit nervous and shaky but I had to relax and get it through for the girls,” Gay, who had 17 possessions, told Fox Sports.
“We knew it was going to be tough in this heat but I’m super proud as Fremantle absolutely gave it to us.”
Having won three straight games, the Demons (6-2) moved up to fifth on the ladder but are level on points with the Dockers, who started round eight on top before dropping to fourth after the costly defeat.
The Demons dominated possession through an accurate short-kicking game and were led by Karen Paxman (24 possessions) and Lauren Pearce (21 touches). Dockers star Kiara Bowers was well held with just 12 disposals.
With the Dockers prone to sluggish starts, the Demons set up their thrilling victory through a dominant opening with dangerous forward Kate Hore kicking two goals in the first 10 minutes.
The red hot visitors added another through talented teenager Eliza McNamara as they jumped out to a 19-point lead at quarter-time.
The Demons, playing away from Melbourne for the first time since the opening round, could have been further ahead after absolutely dominating disposals (65-34) and inside 50s (12-3).
Having triumphed from a 21-point hole against Carlton a week earlier, the Dockers expected to hit back but inspirational Demons captain Daisy Pearce nailed a clever dribbling goal.
Both teams looked out of gas after the long break with goals hard to come by.
Gabby O’Sullivan ended the Dockers’ frustration by nailing a free kick in the dying stages of the third quarter and Roxanne Roux slotted another moments later to reduce the margin to 12 points at the final change.
The Dockers’ vaunted fitness seemed to frazzle the Demons until Gay’s late heroics.
They will look to regroup on the road against fifth-placed North Melbourne, while Melbourne hosts second-placed Brisbane with both games having major top-six ramifications.