23/04/2024

Laura Hughes becomes Canberra United's third signing for the 2021-22 W-League season. (Photo: Canberra United)

Canberra United re-signing Laura Hughes has stressed the importance of building on and developing the side's young core as she enters a fifth season in green.

Canberra United’s list continues to fill out, with midfielder Laura Hughes signing on for fifth season in green.

The exciting announcement comes after Hughes played every one of United’s 13 games in the 2020-21 season, only missing a start once.

She was a dangerous defensive and offensive presence, finishing the year with 13 key passes, two assists and a goal of her own. Which, mind you, was one of the club’s best goals of the year.

After some Michelle Heyman magic to work back a 2-0 deficit against Adelaide United to 3-3, Hughes balked her opponent and found the perfect long range strike to win the game in extra time.

It was the start of a patch of exhilarating comebacks for United, but Hughes says she won’t be looking to (or hopefully won’t have to) pull out such heroics again this season.

“We weren’t a full 90 minute team last season, so we’ll see how we go,” Hughes told media on Thursday.

“[It’s] never over until the whistle is blown!”

On a more serious note, despite entering her fifth year in Canberra colours, Hughes is only 20-years-old, making her debut as a 15-year-old in her only appearance in the 2016-17 season.

Last season’s Canberra team was particularly young then, with more than a few teenagers running around every week including recent re-signing Emma Ilijoski, keeper Sally James, and high schooler Jessika Nash.

She might not know it yet, but Hughes is beginning to move into a pseudo-leadership role.

“It’s weird, I still feel kind of like a young one… but there’s younger ones coming through,” Hughes said.

“I really like having the opportunity to be able to show them what experience I have as well. I still have quite a long way to go, but I think every W-League season I build a bit more and I get a bit more experience.

“[I’m] using that to bring up the younger players, and I like to keep learning more as well.”

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With United making finals last season for the first time in four years, Hughes was one of the few around the club the last time they did.

Granted she didn’t play in the 1-0 loss to Melbourne City, but she still had a full view of how the club and culture operated as a young player in a side that was soon to go downhill, albeit briefly.

Coach Rae Dower soon made way from the club after the loss and just two seasons at the helm, followed by a largely unsuccessful period under Heather Garriock with just a 33 per cent win rate.

The club has come a long way since those days, Hughes explains.

“The best W-League teams or the best teams in the world, they build over time and build a chemistry and keep teams together,” she said.

“I think it’s really important that we keep a young group together because they’re the future of the club. The more we build on that and the comfortable we get with each other playing, the more we improve every W-League season.

“That first season was really important to me… Ray Dower was the coach and we had a lot of players like Hayley Raso, Emma Checker, Grace Maher, Michelle Heyman, all those players.

“They showed me what it’s like to be a Canberra United player and what that environment looks like and the culture that we build. That season was really important for me to see that and be able to keep bringing that each season.

“Being able to play finals was a new experience for me, but now that I’ve played [last season], I feel more comfortable with… being able to perform a bit better.”

Remaining Westfield W-League Fixture Released - Canberra United
The Canberra United squad in the 2020-21 season. (Photo: Canberra United)

Old teammates and new

With the squad slowly starting to take shape again, there’s always going to be the question of who’s staying and who’s going.

Locking in a league MVP, bright young star and fan favourite midfielder is a good way to start, but one player from last year’s squad has already been lost along the way in midfielder Bianca Galic.

Galic signed with the Western Sydney Wanderers barely two weeks ago, unable to stay in Canberra due to complications with completing her physiotherapy degree.

She still wishes nothing but the best for her former teammates though, and spoke to The Inner Sanctum on Hughes’ re-signing to her former side.

“Laura… where do you even begin with Laura,” Galic laughed.

“She’s very bubbly, but she can also doubt herself sometimes. It’s actually funny, when we joke about it now, but I remember playing more of a defensive role at Canberra… and Hughesy was always more of a 10.

“I remember running behind her as we got the ball to Michelle [Heyman] and just screaming behind her, ‘get up, go!’ It was like she found her second wind, because at that moment, as soon as she got that extra encouragement, she was on her bike ready to get an assist or be on the end of Michelle’s cross.

Match Preview - Adelaide United vs Canberra United - Canberra United
Canberra United players celebrate a goal. (Photo: Canberra United)

“As a person off the field, she’s one of the funniest people I’ve met. She’s really kind, and she’s just a really good person that you’d want to be around.

“Her love of football is more than anyone I know. Her dedication to Liverpool is more than anyone I know, which I absolutely love because I’m a Liverpool fan as well.

“We’ve been talking quite a bit in lockdown and just checking in on each other which is nice.

“Having that time at Canberra and when she came to Sydney Uni as well, we did form quite a good bond and friendship. Wherever she ends up, she’s going to be an awesome asset.

“I hope to play with her again because she’s just an awesome player and person to be around.”

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