Perth Glory coach Alex Epakis likes what he sees in young A-League Women squad

If a week can be a long time in football, then 652 days can be an eternity. And when those 93 weeks mark the length of time it's been since your club recorded a win, they can become downright torturous. So when a chance finally comes to end one's ordeal, it matters relatively little how fortuitous it may have been -- as Perth Glory demonstrated in their opening game of the 2021-22 A-League Women season at home last Saturday.

With the game entering its final moments, and Perth unable to find a leveler after Brisbane Roar's 22nd-minute opener, all indications were that Glory's misery was to continue into a new year, another bitter pill for a club that's experienced its fair share since Sam Kerr departed for Europe.

Yet, just when all hope appeared lost, two late strikes -- the second a disastrous own-goal from Roar keeper Georgina Worth after she was unable to control a Jessie Rasschaert backpass -- gifted the hosts their long-sought-after breakthrough.

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Worth almost certainly will never repeat but Glory doesn't need her to -- once was enough.

"It was pretty special," Glory coach Alex Epakis told ESPN of the mood after the win. "It had a special connection, especially for those that were with the squad last year.

"We knew that last year was really tough and unfortunate and unfair at times. And to share that moment with those players... I've won Grand Finals and I think that wasn't that far off from that feeling."

Nominally, 2021-22 marks Epakis' second season at Glory, but given the near hiding to nothing that he and his squad experienced in 2020-21 it feels almost churlish to put much stock in their performances a season ago.

Appointed less than a month out from the season's commencement, quarantine requirements prevented Epakis from taking his first training session with his new group until Christmas Eve and pretty much eliminated any chance of proper pre-season hitouts. Combined with the club's recruiting efforts effectively being conducted with one hand tied behind its back, and the three-time Premiership winner with NPLW NSW side Sydney University was effectively inheriting a squad that was among the youngest and least heralded in ALW history. They then set out on a disjointed season in which travel restrictions meant that games would alternate between being fleeting or coming thick and fast.

Thus, the results were perhaps predictable: Glory ended the season winless, with a single point to their name and a goal difference of -25. There were some positives, such as the development of young West Australians Hana Lowry and Tijan McKenna, but it was a campaign few in the west will be eager to reminisce over any time soon.

"Throughout the season last year a lot of the squad was pretty much set in stone," Epakis says. "So while I was trying to get the best out of the season, I had an eye on this season and moving forward.

"I sort of developed a shortlist of players and positions we needed to improve on. Once the season officially ended I went to work -- and I think we needed to -- and I'm really happy with the players that we've been able to recruit and the players we wanted to retain."

Indeed, to say that Glory have undergone a facelift this season is underselling it slightly. Well over a dozen new players have been signed by the club for 2021-22 -- albeit some such as Morgan Aquino and Kim Carroll are returning to the club for another -- and nine have departed. It's as close to a total cleanout as one can reasonably get.

Making great use of his networks within NPLW, and the newfound ability to stream games and scout players from across the country, Epakis moved rapidly in the off-season to snap up some of the best, brightest and overlooked young talent from around the country -- often on multi-year deals. New signings Susan Phonsongkham, Claudia Mihocic, Sofia Sakalis, Alana Jancevski, and Aideen Keane have all been capped at a junior international level, and been on the periphery of ALW clubs, but, for the most part, they have been on the fringes of senior football.

Combined with incumbent contributors Lowry and McKenna it has given the squad a bit of a future Matildas' feel at a time when seemingly every discussion surrounding the league is framed around the 2023 Women's World Cup and earning a place at it. The Glory squad is full of talent loom at the vanguard of the generation that will step up when the current core moves on, albeit that a home World Cup may be a bridge too far.

"I think that giving people an opportunity is something that's really important to me," Epakis said.

"I've been given a fantastic opportunity to coach at a professional level and I think that without having that professional player background I've had to work extremely hard to be noticed and to get the chance.

"So that fighting spirit and that sort of digging your heels in type mentality that's something that's important to me. And I want players that share similar values. I know that we've picked up players that could have had opportunities at other clubs but for whatever reasons weren't [given them]. And they're the ones that have got so much more to prove and have more fight. And that level of resilience, bringing resilient players into the group, based on last year was also really important."

Of course, young players need leaders in the dressing room to channel their emotions, figures who have been there, done that, and know what it takes to keep doing the little things even when you don't want to; players such as 54-time Australia international Kim Caroll, Sarah Caroll, and captain Natasha Rigby. And if they need any lessons in determination or a near-supernatural desire to win at all costs, then they need look no further than new signing Lisa De Vanna.

Now in her third stint in purple, Perth-born De Vanna had initially appeared set to hang up the boots after her exit from Melbourne Victory at the end of the 2020-21 season and omission from the Matildas' Tokyo Olympics, telling ESPN she was "heartbroken" and ready to "walk away". After discussions with Glory, however, the 37-year-old made the decision "to get back on board" and play one final season of ALW before retirement; she is seeking to add one final championship as a capstone on a legendary career, and mentor a young squad.

"We are so lucky to have her, very fortunate," says Epakis. "She's an absolute character and I haven't come across too many athletes who are so possessed in the idea of winning. It's been really good to have her.

"She's made a big influence, with the other senior players, on the younger ones. We're excited to see what she can deliver this year because I know she's very determined to do well collectively and individually."

Indeed, character is a major focus of Epakis this season.

Again leading a young group with points to prove and a bright future there for the taking -- albeit one he has assembled himself -- the coach knows that results may be an up-and-down prospect this season, especially with it being all but certain that Western Australia's ongoing border restrictions will soon result in a re-jigging of the ALW schedule and force Glory to head out, again, for an extended period on the road.

But as Roar learned last Saturday, when Gemma Craine's relentless pressing won the ball back to set up Phonsongkham's leveller, and pressure on Rasschaert that forced her to pass back to Worth, Epakis' demand of his playing group is simple. No matter what, the opposition will know they've been in a 90-minute battle whenever they play Perth Glory season.

"When you do sign a lot of players everyone wants to know what the expectation is," he says. "I don't want to put a ceiling or a marker on that. All I want to do is be absolutely competitive in every match for every minute.

"That is non-negotiable for me. The playing style and the player development, that's going to come and will come to life more as the season progresses. But in terms of being competitive and fighting, that's just something we've had to instill in the group and it was also important to bring in players that we're able to do that.

"My time at Sydney University was quite different to what I experienced here so far. And sometimes when you're part of that real winning environment and culture it gives you a false sense of appreciation of what it actually means to win a match. Coming to Perth, we know that every win means something and you know what? I really like it. I really like it."