In the first of this season’s Midweek Dub features, Perth Glory head coach Alex Epakis spoke EXCLUSIVELY to Impetus’ Ben Gilby about his club’s pre-season preparations, the qualities his new signings bring to an already impressive squad, and developing the game in Western Australia (2/11/22).
Above: Perth Glory head coach Alex Epakis leading pre-season training at Fremantle Oval. Photo: Estybs Photo via Perth Glory FC.
“They are players I would enjoy watching if I wasn’t the head coach of Perth Glory.”Perth Glory Head Coach Alex Epakis on his squad ahead of the new season.
Perth Glory were one of the major success stories of the 2021/22 A-League Women season. Forced to spend all bar the opening weeks of the season outside of their own state and based 2,440 miles away in the process, Alex Epakis’ team of exciting young talent with the added experience of the likes of Kim Carroll, Lisa De Vanna, and Tash Rigby came within touching distance of earning a Finals place.
With the vast majority of that squad still together, topped up by additional players adding further talent and depth, plus the ability to play a whole season of home games in Perth for the first time in three seasons, excitement is building in Western Australia.
Alex Epakis is positive about what is in prospect after working closely with his squad during the pre-season period: “It’s been very good,” he told me. “This time last year, we were still getting players out of a two-week quarantine. We are like we were at the end of last season – well-conditioned and exactly where we left off.”
The Perth Glory head coach emphasised the crucial factor of going into a new campaign with a largely settled group of players from last year.
“Having consistency across the squad is really important. Teams who have done well in this competition are those who have good stable and consistent squads – Sydney, Melbourne Victory. When we did our big rebuild last year, this was always the plan having a core of players for following seasons. We have a much deeper understanding of our players in terms of ability and mindset in terms of going into year two, three, and four with them.”
Among the crop of new players who have come across to Western Australia are an eye-catching number of talented attackers. Epakis knew he already had strong options in those areas in Alana Jancevski and Cyera Hintzen, but he was looking for strength in depth and players who offer further qualities to drive his team into the top four.
“In terms of players coming in, we knew Lisa (De Vanna) stepped aside, so we had to replace her,” Perth’s head coach explained. “We wanted more attacking creativity in terms of output, a different type of profile in an attacker in terms of being aggressive and running those lines. We needed more direct options. Game by game, opposition by opposition, certain players will fit in depending on what the other teams bring.”
“All the attackers that we have signed have the capacity to play anywhere in the front four of our system. Central, out wide, or as a 10. I love being able to work with these amazing attackers who really excite us.”Alex Epakis, Perth Glory Head Coach
“There is competition, and that is what we want. Having a deep squad this season is what we want. The players are relishing this challenge. They are all saying ‘OK, I have this quality that I can bring to the table.’ Together as a group, we are a lot stronger and we are embracing that.”
Glory also had the added bonus of returning players coming back to training at the club’s Fremantle Oval base having experienced hugely successful campaigns in various NPLW competitions or over seas. Epakis cannot emphasise enough how important that is to his team.
“They all finished the last A-League Women season with momentum, both personally and collectively. Some of the players went to NPL – Sarah Cain and Sofia Sakalis won Most Valuable Players awards in Victoria. That’s a huge achievement. Susan Phonsongkham had a great season in Iceland as did Cyera Hintzen. Morgan Aquino and Abbey Green had great seasons in New South Wales, and there are players who had great seasons in the NPLW WA – Tash Rigby (at Fremantle City), and Kim Carroll (at Perth RedStar). I was really pleased to see everyone continue with the level of performance and effort that we had here.”
A number of locally born and produced young players have left WA to play their NPLW football on the east coast. One of whom is Bella Wallhead who moved across to Heidelberg United in Victoria and put in a number of impressive performances. After making her senior Perth Glory debut at the age of 16 and playing a further nine games, the youngster didn’t make an appearance last season. Despite this, and with the defender’s subsequent growth at Heidelberg, Epakis is confident that Wallhead has plenty to offer her hometown A-League Women side this season.
“Bella is a player who went through a steep learning experience over the past two years. She played a lot in that first season and we probably exposed her too soon due to the way the squad had been shaped before I arrived. But Bella really stood up despite it being unfair on her at times. She has hit the ground running this season. Knowing that we have her here for the next two seasons shows the club and myself have faith in her.”
Both the Perth Glory head coach personally and the club collectively have faced criticism for the number of WA-produced players going inter-state to play. Whilst Epakis recognises this, he pointed out some of the potential benefits for the next generation within WA, and also highlighted his club’s own plans to develop young female talent.
“The reality is we have to understand there are other programs set up by Football Australia to aid and develop players. Players have the right to do that. Does it have a knock-on impact in WA? The opportunist in me would say that it means younger players are getting an opportunity to be exposed to senior (NPLW) football in WA as a result of other players going over east to play. That is something that cannot be understated or ignored.”Alex Epakis, Perth Glory head coach.
“Ultimately, we will hear in the near future that there are moves from our end to set up an official pathway and academy on top of those that are already in operation in the state and are doing a fantastic job. I think we will bare the fruit of that in the future.”
Looking ahead specifically to the new A-League Women season, Epakis is genuinely enthusiastic about what his team can do.
“I am really excited to see what this group can achieve. I am really excited to watch this team play. There is some real attacking quality. I think we have some of the best young technical talent in the country. Who wouldn’t want to watch a Sofia Sakalis or Alana Jancevski or a Susan Phonsongkham in that front third area? They are players I would enjoy watching if I wasn’t the head coach of Perth Glory.”
The Western Australia club’s head coach pointed to some names who, at present may be lesser known who will have a real impact in the purple and orange this season.
“We have some players from the WA NPLW and NTC who are training with us. Rylee Baisden is class. Class on the field and off it. She has competitiveness and experience. We’re happy, super happy.”
He also believes that his team has players who are more than capable to make the step-up to potential World Cup selection should the Matildas’ coaches look to Perth for players at last again. “All the Matildas staff and talent identification group should be looking at keeping the widest possible pool of players for as long as possible. They have their processes, but I will put my hand up for the players we have here.”
In terms of how he sees the battle for silverware going, Epakis believes that whilst many people will be looking to a third successive Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory Grand Final, there are other teams capable of breaking that monopoly.
“All the teams have strengthened. I genuinely believe it will be a very close and tight competition and it will come down to fine margins in matches. I believe that someone else is capable of winning, and we’ll certainly be in a place to push the best sides.”