Western Sydney Wanderers defender Nikolai Topor-Stanley has spoken for the first time about the agony of last season's grand final loss to Brisbane Roar and how he believes the experience will serve as additional motivation for success moving forward.
The Wanderers led 1-0 five minutes from the end of the decider at Suncorp Stadium last May, before being forced into extra time by an equaliser and then losing 2-1.
Making it worse for Topor-Stanley was the fact he had to look on from the sideline without being able to help his side after being forced off with a knee injury midway through the second half.
"I don't think I'll ever get over it. It's horrible just thinking about it," Topor-Stanley replied, when asked if he had managed to get over the grand final loss.
"I'm trying to push it out of my mind but it's always going to stay with me."
Topor-Stanley said the loss to Roar was much harder to take than the previous season's 2-0 loss to Central Coast Mariners in the grand final, because the Wanderers felt much more ready for the challenge the second time around.
"First time around we were maybe a little bit shocked to be there," Topor-Stanley said. "You couldn't say the Mariners didn't deserve it.
"But I think I really felt against Brisbane that was our day.
"I never felt that we were too troubled but then Brisbane, being the side they are, they dug in deep and showed why they came first in the league.
"They had made a habit of doing that all season, so you take your hat off to them.
"As I said before that was our day and it was a big disappointment that it was so close, almost within our grasp.
"That sort of experience builds character among the boys and although we've lost a few players from last season there's still a core of us here and we'll use that to drive us to try to better what we've achieved so far."
Topor-Stanley's injury forced him to miss the two-legged AFC Champions League round of 16 tie against J.League side Sanfrecce Hiroshima, in which the Wanderers came back from a 3-1 away loss to win 2-0 and advance to the last eight on the away-goals rule.
The Wanderers will play Asian and Chinese Super League champion Guangzhou Evergrande in the two-legged ACL quarter-final at home on 20 August and away seven days later.
"The team we'll be playing is a powerhouse of Asian football," Topor-Stanley said. "They've shown what they can do.
"We're up against it but these are the games we want to play in, to test ourselves, and if we come away with a win it will be massive for us as a group and a club and also for Australian football."
After five weeks back in training, Tony Popovic's men will step up their preparation for the big games ahead - kicking off a series of trial games starting with State League club Macarther Rams at Campbelltown Stadium on tonight.
"I damaged the medial ligament and had some bruising as well," Topor-Stanley said.
"I didn't need an operation, just treatment. I got over it well and I'm getting through the pre-season well. I haven't had much bad luck with injuries over the years - fingers crossed and touch wood."
That explains how Topor-Stanley, despite not having made his A-League debut until he was 21 and only being 29 now, has risen to be equal-fifth on the all-time list of A-League appearances with 189.
"I put that down to my fitness and the body holding up," he said. "I hope there's way more to come. The body's feeling pretty good."
Topor-Stanley said the pre-season was typically torturous under Popovic, but that it would set the team up well for the ACL quarter-final.
"It's no secret that our manager doesn't leave any stone unturned, so he's going to put us through our paces," Topor-Stanley said.
"We're just trying to build a base of fitness at the moment. You can only reap rewards if you're prepared to do that.
"That's the only focus right now. Physically and mentally, we'll be more than up for it and prepared, but it's not going to be easy."