Impetus editor Ben Gilby hears from players Dylan Holmes, Grace Maher, and Chloe Knott plus head coaches Adrian Stenta and Alex Epakis in this week’s media conferences (31/12/21).
Above: Adelaide United in training at Coopers Stadium ahead of tomorrow’s game with Perth Glory Photo supplied to Impetus by: Adelaide United.
Dylan Holmes On Her Return To Adelaide:
Out of quarantine after her return to South Australia from Sweden where she played Champions League football with BK Häcken, Adelaide United star Dylan Holmes spoke to the media initially about what it’s like to have returned. “It’s really nice to be back home with some of my best friends. The biggest transition for me has been the heat, but I’ve done it before, so the more I train the more I get used to it again.”
The Reds’ have a number of new faces compared to last season, and Holmes offered her assessment of the squad. “There are a lot of changes and a lot of exciting young talent, some from interstate. There is still a real core of South Australians that can continue the culture we built last season. It’s an exciting mix of new and old girls.”
Holmes’ taster of international football earlier this year with the Matildas has made her hungry for more. “I’m very keen (to play for Australia again), and that was one of the main reasons that I came home, to get as much game time as I can going into the Asian Cup.”
Her time in Sweden with BK Häcken is something she cherishes: “It’s been amazing. It was the first time in my life that I truly felt I was a professional footballer and I was really lucky that I ended up at such a great club. I only have good things to say about them and I learned a lot about myself as a footballer and as a person, so I want to bring some of that back to United now.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s game with Perth Glory at Coopers Stadium, the Adelaide star recognizes that Alex Epakis’ side will be a far tougher prospect than in recent years. “I’m expecting Perth to be a really exciting and dynamic team. They have secured a lot of exciting, young talent from different states. Alex has done a great job with them. It will be a great contest and we’re looking forward to it.
“I didn’t get a chance to play for United at Coopers (Stadium) last season, so this will be my first time. I’m so excited, I can’t wait to be out on the field with the girls and hopefully get the three points.”
Adrian Stenta – Holmes and Sharples Available For “Tough Match”
Adelaide United head coach Adrian Stenta opened his media conference by underlining how much his team are looking forward to being back at Coopers Stadium.
“It’s really exciting, we really enjoyed our last experience here (when Adelaide United broke the record for attendance at a stand-alone W-League game) at the final game last year. We want to make this a home for us. I have hopes that we can play some standalone games here during the season, but there are economics behind that which I understand. It’s great though that we can be here and play on the same day as the men.”
He then made an assessment on Perth Glory, the side that the Reds face tomorrow: “It’s going to be a tough match. They did a lot of good recruitment and they are well-coached. It’s a bit hard to get a gauge on where they are at because they’ve only played one opposition (Brisbane Roar twice) and they haven’t played for a couple of weeks now. We’re expecting a tough match and a really hard-fought contest.
With Dylan Holmes ready to make her return to Adelaide colours tomorrow, Stenta discussed what it’s been like having her back in the fold. “She’s a great person to have in the group. She’s a great footballer and she’s fitted in really well. She’s in good condition having come straight out of the European season (in Sweden), albeit the temperature is a slight adjustment for her! She’s a quality person and a quality player and we’re excited about what she can bring to our team.”
Stenta revealed that American Kayla Sharples is also in contention to play tomorrow: “She could have played in our last game, but it would have been a bit of a stretch. However, she is fit, firing, and ready to go now.”
With the A-League Women having its first covid related postponement this weekend (Newcastle Jets v Melbourne City), the Adelaide head coach emphasized the additional challenges faced by a competition where many players work as well as playing football – thus increasing their exposure risks.
“It’s something else that the players have to add to their thought processes. We’ve asked the players to be smart about what they do. They don’t have to lock themselves away with their doors locked and the curtains drawn, but we’ve asked them to be smart and responsible about how they look after themselves and they’ve responded really well.”
Grace Maher – Building on Momentum Shifting Brisbane Point
Grace Maher began her media conference on Wednesday by reflecting on their incredible comeback with Brisbane Roar, and the potential impact it could have on their season.
“Ah look, a better Christmas present would have been three points and we might have got them if the game had gone on a few more minutes, but to come from 3-1 down is really hard and I’m really proud of the girls for showing the Canberra spirit.
“Fighting to the end is something that is in the Canberra DNA. It’s been there since I came into the team as a teenager. It’s the ability to know how much a full 90 minutes can produce. The game is never over. We also know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of that!
“We know that the whole 90 minutes is super important. We need to start like that and get ourselves in a good position so we don’t need to make those sorts of comebacks, but it’s our first point on the board.
“Just one or two moments in a game can flick a switch for the whole season. We haven’t been playing well, we know that and we’ve been honest with ourselves. We have put the essence of what was good about that last game into preparing for this one. If we can improve physically and impose our style of play to put Wanderers on the back foot (we’ll be in a good place).”
Focusing on this weekend’s opponents, Western Sydney Wanderers, Maher emphasized how impressed she was with their result against Sydney FC last time out. “It’s been an unpredictable season. Sydney had them on the back foot but Wanderers got a draw. Teams aren’t just here to participate. Perth have already turned around their last season in their opening games too.
“Western Sydney have always been a team that like to put it to you. They make you earn the win regardless of how you play, so we know that we need to be up for the challenge. If we take it to them, we know that we have players to get in. We need to put our bodies on the line and do the little extra things to keep things going our way as we have the firepower up-front to cause damage.
“They are very physical and have some very technical midfielders – our former team-mate Bianca Galic and Clare Hunt has been instrumental in their backline. Their strength is their unity. They come out and give what they can. If we can out strengthen than and outplay them in ways that will show that we like to fight too, then we can do it.
“We were lucky as, unlike some teams, we’ve had eight days, nine days, to build a game plan for Western Sydney since our last game. We have an opportunity now to get lots of points in quick succession with the Roar, Western Sydney, and then Perth games.”
Addressing her classic free-kick goal which started the Canberra comeback, Maher enthused, “I love that. I’ve always been someone who wants to take set-pieces when they are important for the team. These are opportunities that are so important. I enjoy the pressure and pressure is a privilege.
“We want the performance that we put on the park to be one that is the best of our ability. If we do that and we shut the opposition down, we’ll come away with the three points. A loss is a reality check and it’s a chance to build and not get too far ahead of yourself.”
Alex Epakis – We Want To Improve In Every Aspect
Perth Glory return to action after an enforced two-week break due to Covid border restrictions, and head coach Alex Epakis spoke about how much everyone in the camp was looking forward to their return “We’re really excited for the game on New Year’s Day. The opportunity to play at Coopers Stadium is something that the players and staff are really relishing.”
Epakis has a healthy respect for the qualities that Adelaide United has: “I believe that Adelaide have been strong in their performances so far and I don’t think that their results justify where they are as a group. They are a strong team with good players.
“We also have to respect where we are at, and that is with good confidence and with a good idea of what we are trying to do. It’s a tough and exciting challenge and a good way of seeing where we are at after this two-week break that we’ve had.”
In terms of targets for his team on their return to action, the Perth head coach wants to see further growth across the board. “It’s very easy to turn a blind eye to things when you win games. We certainly haven’t done that. If anything, we’ve assessed our performances even more thoroughly and I think we want to improve in every aspect.
“We’re a team that is growing and is building, so as a result of that we expect to be growing in every area.”
Venue Confirmed For Canberra Clash
It was confirmed on Wednesday that Perth’s Canberra United will take place at Wanderers Football Park in Blacktown on Wednesday 5 January, with a kick-off time of 2.05pm WST (5.05pm Local/4:05am UK).
The venue is Western Sydney Wanderers’ training base and academy location. It has a capacity of 1,000 with 500 seats and has already seen A-League Women action this year when the Wanderers hosted Newcastle Jets.
WA’s current border restrictions mean that Alex Epakis’s side will spend the whole of January on the road, starting on New Year’s Day when they face Adelaide United at Coopers Stadium (kick-off at 2.05pm WST/6:05am UK).
After that clash with the Reds, the squad will travel to NSW for the Canberra United fixture and then complete a busy first week of 2022 by taking to the field for a third time when they meet Sydney FC at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday 8 January (kick-off at 2.05pm WST).
Chloe Knott – Learning Lots In The Search For Consistency
Phoenix midfielder Chloe Knott reflected on her team’s loss to Sydney FC yesterday and emphasized how head coach Gemma Lewis’ words at half-time inspired their improved second-half showing.
“It felt like a game of two halves really. The first half – we were all pretty gutted really about it. The second half we came out and we showed a bit of character to keep them 0-0 for the second half, so we were pretty conflicted.”
“It’s never easy being 2-0, 3-0 down so early in the match. We obviously go into every game wanting to win. To be down so early is a bit of a stink. The first goal for them was a good one, we can’t argue about that one.”
Knott outlined the importance of head coach Gemma Lewis and assistant Natalie Lawrence’s half-time team talk: “It was a very good discussion at half-time. It was ‘You can either roll over and let in a few more goals, or change the script, change the narrative, and put in a good shift’. The first half isn’t how we play or want to play, so that motivated us to go and change things.”
The midfielder believes that the key to Wellington’s improvement in the A-League Women will be an ability to produce consistent performances: “Each game has been different so far. This game, we had a bad first half and came out well in the second. Other games we’ve had a bad last 10 minutes or bad middle 20. We’re learning. To go down so heavily in the first half had never happened before. We’re learning every game but we definitely need to be more consistent. We need to have a full 90-minute performance.
“We are focused on the games and we know what we want to get out of the games. We’re a new team with young players and we need to find a balance on how to prepare properly in the lead-up to games, both individually and as a team. The two-day turnaround was challenging, not to make excuses, but it made it hard to prepare.
“I don’t like losing, I don’t bounce back well from it, but I’m learning and getting better. Even when we lose we have to reset and refocus and make the most of preparation for the next game rather than dwelling on things. Even dwelling on it for one training session can hurt us. The next day has to be a focus on the next week’s match.”
Wellington’s opening fixtures, which has seen them play Sydney FC, one of the competition’s strongest teams twice in the opening five rounds also feeds into her team’s inconsistent start, according to Knott: “We did well against Newcastle and then came up against Sydney, who we know are a good team and we’ve just lost 3-0 to them the week before. You really have to get up for it because we’ve just lost 3-0.
“Also the teams we play, the week before we play them, they don’t do so well, maybe getting a 0-0 draw (like Sydney did two days prior to facing Phoenix again this week) and they come out firing for us. If we were playing different teams every week, it would be a blank slate, but it is what it is and everyone is dealing with it. It’s learning, and we’re learning lots right now.”
After playing two games in four days, Phoenix now has 10 days before their next game, something which Knott underlines the importance of. “We can now give our bodies and minds a bit of a rest and refocus going into the New Year. Christmas has been challenging being away from family, so January will be a fresh start. Definitely a good thing.”
In terms of how the team are reacting to being in the public eye in terms of recognition and games on TV, a situation that the vast majority of the Wellington team have never experienced before, Knott offered “It’s probably a good thing for us that we’re not in New Zealand at the moment. I know we’re on the news in New Zealand a bit, but we don’t see any of that, so unless you actually go looking for it on social media, we don’t see anything.
“To be honest, most of the feedback is positive. People are getting behind us which means the world when you see comments like that after a 5-0 loss. The players are like ‘Did you see those comments, it’s so nice!’ My sister will message me and say I was on the news in New Zealand, but we don’t see it and it’s probably good that we don’t!”
“Improvements will come and we definitely will score from open play soon.”