Scotsman Steven McGarry expects the battle for A-League supremacy to be the toughest in the competition's eight-year history after between-seasons moves that created worldwide headlines.
The Perth Glory midfielder says Ange Postecoglou's move from championship-winning Brisbane Roar to coach of Melbourne Victory and the arrival of big names such as Italian star Alessandro Del Piero (Sydney) and former English Premier League striker Emile Heskey (Newcastle Jets), will intensify the fight for honours this season.
"It's always close but I think this season will be the closest ever," McGarry said.
"Melbourne Victory will be strong with Ange there. Sydney have made some great signings. Newcastle Jets I fancy to do well. Central Coast and Brisbane are always there, and Adelaide have looked good in the Asian Champions League.
"I just think every team will be very hard to beat this season and if we want to do well again we've got to be consistent."
The first challenge for McGarry, who recently celebrated his 33rd birthday, is to establish a place in the starting line-up under increased pressure. Last season, McGarry, Billy Mehmet and Shane Smeltz were the preferred players in a system that accommodated two of the three.
This season, there will be additional options for coach Ian Ferguson, who has signed Japanese import Ryo Nagai and will also be looking to make more use of Australian youth international Jesse Makarounas.
But McGarry, whose wife Kathryn is expecting their second child in December, a sibling for 18-month old Nicole, is determined to again prove his value to ensure his Glory days extend beyond this campaign.
"People talk about taking it one game at a time but I've got to look at the big picture as well, especially now that I've got a family and at my age," said McGarry, who signed a one-year contract extension at the end of last season.
"I'll be going out to prove I'm still fit enough, able enough and good enough to play every week."
After a long pre-season, during which Glory won nine of their 10 games including matches in South Africa and against A-League opposition in Melbourne, McGarry is itching to get into the real action, which starts in Sunday's blockbuster against Brisbane at Patersons Stadium.
Roar beat Glory in last season's grand final and McGarry is not alone in his desire to make sure the new campaign starts in more positive territory for the WA side.
"Everybody's looking forward to this game and the club have done everything they can to build it up," he said. "Brisbane are going to be a very good side because they've got the majority of the players from last season and are probably playing a similar system.
"It's going to be a massive game, a hard game but hopefully we can start our season with a bang and get everybody behind us.""Every team will be very hard to beat … if we want to do well again we've got to be consistent." " Glory midfielder *Steven McGarry *
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