AFTER years of heartbreak, North Melbourne has finally broken through for a Grand Final berth, and those agonising losses themselves may have just been the reason why.
The Roos lost home-and-away matches to all of Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane this year, and have now beaten both the Demons and Crows in the finals series, with the Lions to come in the decider.
KANGAROOS v CROWS Full match coverage and stats
"I said to the group even before the game – you have to earn the right to get into a Grand Final. Preliminary finals are so hard to get through," coach Darren Crocker said.
"Whether there was a bit of resolve from last year, whether there's been a bit of resolve from some of the close losses we've had this year – I thought in the last quarter, the players were just super, the way they just found, they dug really, really deep.
"We probably didn't play our best footy at times, and Adelaide would probably say the same, it was a bit of a struggle for both teams, to try and get the game looking the way both teams would have liked. That win was full of character."
Skipper Emma Kearney both arrived and left the stadium wearing a facemask, having battled illness in the past few days.
"'Kearns' is a bit under the weather. I can't speak highly enough of Emma Kearney and the way she can find a way. She's been a little bit sick late in the week, probably wasn't feeling 100 per cent today," Crocker said.
"Again, she's so important to us off half-back, the way she sets up, the way she mops up and for her to be able to find a way to get out there and win, is all credit to 'Kearns'."
Crocker confirmed Irish recruit Niamh Martin did not have to undergo a HIA after a couple of heavy knocks, instead finishing the game with "a sore jaw and a fat lip."
A circumspect Matthew Clarke was left to rue a two-point qualifying final loss and a one-point preliminary final defeat, having finished the season in first place.
"It's not much fun, getting rolled by small margins, but in the end, I thought North Melbourne played an outstanding game. On balance, it probably felt like they had the better of the day," the Adelaide coach said.
"But any time it's under a goal, there's a little bit of luck involved. In round nine, we probably had that luck, but we'd trade for it right now."
North Melbourne was stronger around the contest, winning the contested possession count by 23, while the Crows won the outside ball by 18.
"The contested possession was well in their favour, I thought aerially, down forward, they just took some really telling marks (16 to eight marks inside 50), which were significant," Clarke said.
"Obviously, quarter one, we were pretty disappointed that both the finals we've lost we haven't quite had the level of intensity we'd expect of ourselves from the first minute of the game.
"Beyond that, I'm still amazingly proud of our group – the way they keep presenting, fronting up and giving themselves an opportunity to contend.
"Clearly, we're bitterly disappointed to fall narrowly short, but we're equally proud we're giving ourselves that opportunity year on year, and the development of some of our younger players has been really enjoyable to be a part of this season."