When Perth Glory went down 3-0 to Sydney FC, just one game short of the Hyundai A-League Grand Final last season, many zoned in on the defence as the key area to improve ahead of the 2017-18 campaign.
Fast forward to Season 13 of the Hyundai A-League and it’s been a testing start for the WA side, with injuries and a tough travel schedule certainly taking their toll.
At some point, Glory have been denied the services of Diego Castro, Andy Keogh, Adam Taggart, Alex Grant, Xavi Torres, Andreu, Marc Warren, Scott Neville and Joel Chianese.
Their absences have sparked turbulent change, with Kenny Lowe having to shuffle the formation of the team while also injecting a host of youngsters into the first-team squad in the form of Jacob Italiano, Joe Knowles, Yagoub Mustafa, Daniel Stynes [in the FFA Cup] and Riley Warland.
And yet despite a much more difficult opening schedule, Glory have equalled last year’s return of two clean sheets with more than half the campaign remaining and conceded just 18 goals as opposed to 23 at the same point last season.
This is by no means a cause for particular celebration; two clean sheets in 11 matches should definitely be improved upon.
However, when you consider that every single player in our defence, along with defensive midfielders Xavi Torres and Andreu, has missed football due to injury this season, it suggests that there is real strength of character within the squad.
And when it comes to strength of character, surely few players in the Hyundai A-League can rival Shane Lowry.
Off the pitch, Shane is an unassuming kind of guy. He doesn’t seek the limelight of the media, or the glitz and glamour of the WAG lifestyle.
That mentality was forged early in his career at notoriously tough English clubs like Leeds United and Millwall; this is a player who knows what three points mean to a football club and its fans.
On the field, the 28-year-old is a warrior. Unafraid to throw his body at any shot, he plays with the mobility of a youngster but the poise and leadership of a veteran. On the ball, he displays the fluency of any modern centre-back, always looking to urge his team forward and since being handed the captain’s armband in the absence of Andy Keogh, appears to have relished the additional responsibility.
And he’s managing all this amidst circumstances that are far from ideal.
There’s no doubt that with the injuries Glory have suffered, the club’s true character is being tested across the board and a mixed bag of results has forced the club to fight on all fronts. As part of the social media team, I read every comment on Glory’s four social media channels and I hear your frustrations. We share those too.
But for me, it’s our job as members and fans to fight through this together. This is why the mentality of a character like Lowry is exactly what we need to build this season around right now. He is a no-excuses character who continues to dig deep on the pitch and put his body on the line for the team week in, week out.
As a club, we have to follow that never-say-die, 'keep calm and carry on' mentality. Despite his defensive partner changing almost every week, Shane isn’t calling doomsday on our season after just 11 difficult rounds. There’s still a mountain of football left to be played.
I’m definitely biased, but his strength, leadership and ability to read the game and make perfectly-timed, last-ditch challenges should, at the very least, bring him into the conversation regarding Australia’s World Cup squad.
I believe he’s the best option to partner the Socceroos’ standout defender, Trent Sainsbury, out of all the candidates available, with his hunger on the pitch being exactly what we’ll need against France, Peru and Denmark in June 2018.
But that discussion is for another day.
For now, we have two tough away trips to Brisbane and Sydney FC to look forward to as we look to round off 2017 on a high note. And I’m confident that inspired by no-nonsense players like Lowry, we’ll keep the ship steady and on course to rally for a strong second half of the Hyundai A-League season.
C’mon you Glory boys!