Over the last few seasons, North Melbourne has been a team of almosts. They almost made the finals in their inaugural season in the AFLW competition and have been regular finalists since, most recently falling at the final hurdle with a preliminary final loss to eventual premiers Melbourne in Season 7.
And after a 23-point loss to the Demons in Round 8 this season, and a subsequent defeat at the hands of minor premiers Adelaide the following week, it seemed the Roos were destined for another 'good, but not good enough' kind of year.
But a commanding win against premiership heavyweights Melbourne in last week's qualifying final -- securing themselves a place in the preliminary final -- means the Kangas have officially flipped the premiership race on its head.
Coming into the game, many thought it would be a repeat of that Round 8 performance and the Demons would be too strong, but boy were they wrong.
The performance is almost reminiscent of the Australian Diamonds' World Cup campaign, where they narrowly lost to England in the rounds before showing their dominance by taking out the title a few days later.
North Melbourne were comfortably beaten in that Round 8 battle, but visibly took plenty of learnings from the game and came out and knocked the socks off their rivals. This is North Melbourne's first win against a side in the top four, after struggling to knock one of their fellow contenders off in the home and away season.
One key difference? The Roos' efficiency inside 50 in skyrocketed from 24 percent in Round 8 to 54.5 percent in the qualifying final, while they also evened up the clearance battle after losing in their previous contest. They kicked the ball more, their uncontested game was far more clean, and let's not forget about their 104 tackles for the game (nearly 30 more than their season average!).
Normally the focus for the Kangaroos goes straight to the midfield, and rightly so, with players such as Ash Riddell and Jasmine Garner leading the way. Their defence was impeccable, too, led by Jasmine Ferguson and Sarah Wright who have both flown under the radar in a strong season.
Melbourne's forward line is widely regarded as the best attack in the competition, with dual leading goalkickers in Eden Zanker and Kate Hore leading a potent forward line that has destroyed teams across the last 12 months. But in this year's qualifying final, both players were left goalless, Zanker with just one disposal to three-quarter time.
The Demons were the top ranked side for points scored this season, averaging 65.3 per game. So for North Melbourne to limit the Demons to just one goal, which only came in the last quarter, left footy fans amazed. More often than not, the Kangaroos were able to have a tall behind the ball whether it was Kim Rennie, Emma King or one of the forwards pushing back, which saw any Demons surge deep inside 50 from mopped up by the Roos defence.
North Melbourne Coach Darren Crocker said the team have received a confidence boost now knowing the defensive system holds up on the big stage.
"We've got unbelievable faith in our defensive system," Crocker said post-match. "It's held up. It's been building, not just this season, but throughout the last few seasons.
"Players have gained more and more belief and confidence around it. It's a bit different than the way a lot of other teams play, but we think it suits us and holds up well.
"Today just gave the players some great evidence that it can hold up under finals pressure and finals football."
Work on the defence to stop the offense? Makes sense. But the Roos also have their own forward 50 potency that has given sides constant headaches. Tall timbers Tahlia Randall and Kate Shierlaw were once again dangerous; Shierlaw only scored the one behind, but she was influential around the ground and in the air, and Randall had a day out, scoring three goals including the opener.
It shows that even if you can contain at least one of the two key forwards, more often than not the other one is going to find the big sticks. Adding to that, you've got the small forwards and midfielders that can hit the scoreboard with Bella Eddey (two goals and five tackles) and Alice O'Loughlin (one and four) also kicking goals on the day. Garner and Lulu Pullar have found the goals this year, too.
As already touched on, while all the focus normally goes to Riddell and Garner, a few of North Melbourne's unsung heroes were able to put together strong performances and played their roles to perfection. Mia King (17 disposals and five clearances) and Taylah Gatt (15, nine tackles and two marks) were exceptional, with the latter often using her speed on the outside to get the ball inside 50.
Captain Emma Kearny was crucial across half back, picking up 22 touches and 495 metres gained, and always able to really create something out of defence. Garner wasn't racking up the astronomical numbers that fans are used to, due to attention from Shelley Heath, but her 26 disposals and three clearances were still more than serviceable.
It was also the little things, like being first to the contest and the furiosity that North Melbourne brought, which helped tie together almost the perfect game. Something they can work on? Accuracy perhaps, but their pressure and defensive set up was sound enough that it didn't matter on the day, although it can be improved.
The win means North Melbourne are firmly in the race for the premiership, if they weren't already, with just one more win required to make history and secure the club a berth in its first ever women's Grand Final.