Perth Glory's Daniel Stynes making the most of second A-League chance

Locked down in yet another period of mandatory, 14-day isolation after he and his teammates returned home from a four-game road trip across Melbourne and Adelaide, Perth Glory's Daniel Stynes admits that he has had plenty of time to reflect on what has been a whirlwind few years.

That the 22-year-old is even getting a chance to ponder a burgeoning professional career is indicative of the changing face of the A-League, which has recorded one of its most gripping and entertaining starts to a campaign in years thanks to an infusion of cheap, young, and local talent.

Five games in and cutting somewhat of a throwback figure -- his long hair, low socks and lean frame evoking images of footballers of yesteryear -- the midfielder has started three of Glory's A-League fixtures in 2020-21 and been injected as a second-half substitute in his side's other two fixtures.

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Formally signed just weeks before the season started to help plug the numerous gaps Glory had in their squad, Stynes began his campaign by playing 90 minutes and scoring against eventual champions Ulsan Hyundai during the Glory's Asian Champions League campaign last November. Further minutes against the Koreans, as well as Chinese and Japanese powers Shanghai Shenhua and FC Tokyo followed.

Ensconced in an unorthodox, Doha-based hub and playing at stadiums earmarked as host venues for the 2022 World Cup, the Champions League proved a surreal experience; a far cry from the Croatian Sporting Complex in the Perth suburb of Gwelup that he had been haunting just months prior.

"Two months before that I was playing NPL WA and indoor with my mates on a Monday," Stynes told ESPN. "So playing in the ACL was shocking. Playing at a World Cup stadium and starting against Ulsan and then scoring in that game ... that was just an incredible feeling and something I'll never forget.

"There were a few whispers around that Glory was going to invite a few players back to trial ... and I ended up getting a call for basically two weeks of training.

"This is after an NPL season, I don't think I'd trained for six or seven weeks after that.

"I came in, did two weeks of training and then Richie [Garcia, Glory's coach] told me that I was going to the Champions League."

For Stynes, 2020-21 represents a re-introduction, rather than induction, to professional football after spending the better part of his formative years as a prospect at Perth Glory's academy.

Though he was consistently ranked as one of its better prospects, injuries and poor timing robbed him of opportunities to make an elusive breakthrough to the next level and he departed in 2019 and spent his next two seasons in the State Leagues of Victoria and Western Australia.

He'd made his senior debut as a substitute during Glory's loss to Heidelberg United in the 2017 FFA Cup, only to promptly suffer a severe hamstring injury -- "I tore my hamstring basically off the bone" -- that set him back for close to a year.

Fighting his way back into first-team contention, the former ECU Joondalup junior was given a senior starting debut by former Glory boss Tony Popovic against Melbourne Victory in the subsequent year's FFA Cup, only for disaster to once again strike after 40 minutes.

"I came back, under Tony Popovic, doing well in preseason and he selects me to make my starting debut for the club against Melbourne Victory," Stynes recalled. "In that game, I ended up getting tackled from behind and tearing my syndesmosis in my ankle.

"I was out four or five months and by the time I came back, we had that many players in my position in the first team and they were doing so well that it was close to impossible to break in. I had a lot of injuries and a lot of doubts about it all."

As he fought his way back to fitness, the then-20-year-old ultimately decided to depart the Glory setup and ply his footballing trade in something other than purple for the first time in over half-a-decade: moving 3,500 kilometres across Australia to sign with NPL Victoria powers Bentleigh Greens in Melbourne's South-East.

"I thought that my time at Glory was done. I never thought I'd be back," Stynes explained.

It ended up being a fruitful decision, refreshing his mind off the field and delivering a trophy on it as the Greens lifted the 2019 Victorian championship.

"I'd made my decision [to leave] Glory two or three weeks before [the move]," he said. "I was looking to get out, and the transfer window in Perth had closed, so I couldn't go there.

"Bentleigh had been in contact with me for a while, so I ended up wanting to go there just because it was out of Perth, it was out of West Australia. It was for football but also a new challenge. I'd been in Perth for so long and been in the Glory setup for so long, six or seven years through the academy, so I think it was a mental break as much as anything."

Stynes subsequently returned home to Perth in 2020 and signed with NPL WA side Gwelup Croatia for their debut season in the WA top-flight in 2020, which was able to go ahead in a modified format thanks to the state's efforts at suppressing COVID-19.

At that point, however, little consideration was being made towards forcing his way back into the Glory setup.

"The main reason for coming back to Perth was because I had my degree to study," he told ESPN.

"I'm studying law at Murdoch University. I've been doing that since I graduated from school, just part-time, chipping away. I've completed about two years worth of it, so I've got about another two, maybe three years to go. But that will be staggered over part-time study.

"I've always had that outside of football. I try to balance the two and, you know, make sure that I have something -- a release from football -- because it can be overwhelming and consuming so it's good to have that stimulant to have the mind thinking about other things.

"I think people are always going to look back and have regrets. But, in my situation, I look back and I think those experiences I've had made me stronger. I know it sounds cliche but all that stuff I think has helped me in the situation I'm in now as football is one of the toughest industries in the world to break into.

"You've got to deal with so much stuff -- not being in the team, not being selected, being injured -- and I think you've got to have the right mentality to succeed in it.

"I'm nowhere near where I want to be or have done what I need to do in terms of my career so far, but I've had a good start to this second stint now so I want to continue that."

The journey that he has already undergone off the pitch already won him plaudits out West.

"Daniel has worked hard on the mental side of the game and is continually trying to improve this area as well as the usual physical demands," Glory boss Garcia told ESPN. "His focus has changed toward what he can affect and do to improve. This has improved not only his performance but his mentality and outlook toward training and playing.

"We have been very happy with his growing maturity as a player and a person."

Stynes next opportunity to impress on the park will arrive when he and his Glory teammates seek to re-enter the A-League's top-six when they welcome Brisbane Roar to HBF Park on Friday night.