Alex Epakis: Perth are reaping the rewards for hard work

Perth Glory head coach Alex Epakis spoke exclusively to Impetus’ Ben Gilby about how his team has found their best form after a tough run of results and losing a key striker to season-ending injury for the third successive campaign (23/2/23).

Above: Perth Glory head coach Alex Epakis. Image: Perth Glory.

Perth Glory are currently in fine form in the A-League Women on a four-match unbeaten run, after taking longer than expected to hit winning ways this season.

After narrowly missing out on Finals football last time round, the Western Australian side started the campaign slowly, but head coach Alex Epakis believes the current positive run is a result of hard work on the training pitch.

“We are in a good run of form currently and I am pleased with the individual and team performances. We have worked very hard in training and that focused work and effort is now translating to more dominant performances and positive results.”

Glory have also had to overcome losing a key striker to a season-ending injury for the third successive season. After losing Gemma Craine in the previous two campaigns, this year’s top scorer Rylee Baisden suffered a heartbreaking ACL injury at AAMI Park. The impact was huge on the club – and not just due to the American’s impact on the pitch

Above: Rylee Baisden in action for Perth Glory against Canberra United earlier this season. Photo: Tom McCarthy.

“Losing Rylee was a dent,” the Perth boss explained. “She is a vibrant character with experience and a lot of quality on and off the field. She was in great attacking form prior to her injury and was a focal point to our attack.

“The injury was devastating for her on a personal level and we have done absolutely everything to assist and support her during the early stages of her rehab. Currently, she is tracking well.

“Once the injury occurred, I knew someone would step up; we are fortunate that all the attacking players have found another gear; Cyera (Hintzen), Susan (Phonsongkham), Sofia (Sakalis), Alana (Jancevski), Hannah (Blake), and Hana (Lowry). The team as a whole is also attacking a lot more fluidly and we are finding a nice sweet spot currently in creating and converting chances. 

“Rylee is still in Australia and her recovery is positive and well underway, she is a very strong and resilient character and we will continue to support her through this process.”

Baisden’s loss, plus the team’s challenging start to the campaign result-wise left Perth’s season at a crossroads. Yet, as has happened so often with the Western Australian side over the past couple of years, when things look to be at their most challenging, the team produce their best. It’s something that Epakis puts down to his leadership group.

Above: Locally born youngster Bella Wallhead is back in the Perth Glory team this season after a season on the sidelines. Photo: Tom McCarthy.

“The team has fantastic resilience. The leadership group; Tash (Rigby), Kim (Carroll) as well as other leaders, have played a big part in ensuring that we have a positive mindset and embrace the challenges. Doing things the difficult way is in our nature, we love it. The team spirit is very high and we are very together as a group.” 

After spending last season on the sidelines, locally produced defender Bella Wallhead, who turned 20 last week, has come back into the squad for this campaign, something that the Perth boss believes is a reward for her continuing growth as a player.

“Bella had a good start to the season off the back of a strong pre-season. She is progressing well and developing elements of her game whilst learning from the experienced defenders in the squad. She is working hard to regain her spot.”

In terms of other young Western Australians at the club, including Tijan McKenna, recently called up to the Young Matildas squad, the Perth boss said: “The entire squad understands that internal competition is a sign of a healthy and progressive team. They embrace that and it facilitates players’ growth and team success.”

Whilst Perth’s current unbeaten run has made Finals football a possibility, the team face a major hurdle to overcome in the process. Their scheduled away game at Sydney FC in January was postponed due to the Harbour City club being unable to find a suitable venue to play the match. The APL have now rescheduled the match to the end of March – meaning Perth face a run in of three matches in three different states in six games. Glory face over 4,000 miles of travelling and no time for recovery between matches.

Above: Perth Glory captain Tash Rigby is aiming to lead her team towards Finals football. Photo: Tom McCarthy.

Epakis revealed that the APL have never replied to an email he sent them voicing his concerns over the decision and its impact on his team.

“I am unsure the club received further correspondence either. It doesn’t look great in my opinion but nonetheless, we are focused on the task at hand, and we won’t get dragged into feeling sorry for ourselves. A lot more could be said, but I’ll leave that to the public and powerbrokers.”

Alex Epakis, Perth Glory head coach on the APL’s decision to reschedule his team’s trip to Sydney FC.

As Perth head towards the climax of Epakis’ third season at the helm, Epakis highlighted what he continues to learn from his tenure in the West.

“Each season has been an unbelievable experience and journey. Different hurdles and challenges always present themselves, from COVID, relocations, injuries, and results. The season moves very quickly and different things come up that myself, the staff, and team have to navigate through – it is one of the wonders of this job.

“We are now in a very cohesive place as a squad, I understand the players well and they understand myself and the standards and environment we have. Our team identity is as strong as it has ever been and it is showing in our training and performances.”

Above: The return of local-born defender Izzy Foletta has had a major boost on Perth Glory’s progress this season. Photo: Tom McCarthy.

With Perth in a battle with a number of clubs for what could potentially be one available spot in the Finals, the Glory head coach is clear about what he needs to see from his team over the remaining weeks of the season.

“We have to keep focused on the task at hand each week and prepare well at training to give us the best chance of winning. We are certainly capable of anything, it is my job to harness that belief and continue to support the players are much as possible over the run in home.”

Epakis sees a bright future for the Glory, and believes that things are moving in the right direction to ensure that the club continue to progress positively over the long term.

“The team and club are moving in a positive direction on and off the field. We are strategic with the approach and maintaining stability is an important pillar for the club. Positive discussions relating to the future are always occurring.”

Artwork: Charlotte Stacey, founder of On Her Side.

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