Papas: Side ready for congested schedule

It’s been a month of false starts for our Isuzu UTE A-League side as we pass over 30 days without football.

Our next scheduled match is set to be against Adelaide on Sunday 30 January in a big double header at home, but by the time that comes around, our Men will have missed six games – one more than we’ve actually played so far this season.

While the team managed to stay relatively COVID-free at the same time other club’s encountered outbreaks, recent positive cases within the squad forced our F3 Derby last weekend to be postponed, as well as subsequent matches with Western United and Perth Glory.

Preparation for matches has certainly been challenging across the past month, but as Manager Arthur Papas highlighted, the work amongst the squad hasn’t halted too much.

“It hasn’t been an easy period for anyone,” Papas said. “On three occasions we thought we were playing the next day, and it’s been cancelled quite late in the piece.

“It does dent a little bit of our momentum. Up until that point [of positive cases] we had quite a few internal matches and we were covering a 90-minute A-League match inside a 70-minute match between ourselves.

“The guys work so hard and I take my hat off to them because it can’t be easy to stay focused when these things are consistently happening.”

With so many matches across the league needing to be replayed, and no decision made regarding an extension to the season, the players and coaching staff are expecting an incredibly busy program in the next few months, which includes multiple mid-week fixtures.

Papas acknowledged that it’ll provide a big test for the team, but also that he’s looking for younger, less experienced players to make the step up to cover the games.

“It’ll be a congested schedule, but that’s one of the challenges that we’re looking forward to,” he said.

“It’s going to put some strain on the squad but it’s also going to create opportunity. When we built this squad, we signed a lot of younger players as well that we wanted to expose to first team football so if anything, it’s going to give them a bigger opportunity to put their best foot forward.

“We’ll probably play a mid-week match between us just to start understanding what it [a congested schedule] feels like. It might possibly hurt us early on, but we need to make sure we’re preparing them for what the reality is and what’s coming up.

“We’re going to try and be as prepared as possible.”

A silver lining that presents itself is that with the majority of the squad now experiencing, and subsequently, recovering from symptoms, the likelihood of further disruptions to the team has now been reduced.

With this, the team are excited to get back into regular football and are confident of still experiencing a successful season.

“It looks like we’re turning a corner,” Papas said.

“We’re optimistic that next weekend we will be playing again.

“There’s still a small portion who haven’t had it [COVID] and we don’t want them to get it, but that means they’re still at risk of getting it and having an interrupted training program.

“[Regardless] the group of players we’ve got are extremely focused.”