Canberra United will build a squad around local junior Grace Maher as they push to return to the W-League's top four next season.
The Canberra Times can reveal Maher will be announced as United's first signing for the 2020-21 W-League season on Thursday morning.
The 21-year-old midfielder returns to her debut club after a two-season stint with Melbourne Victory, saying she's had her heart set on Canberra since the coronavirus shutdown.
In 2014, Maher became the youngest player in United history at 15-years-old and started in their championship-winning team.
She's now entering her seventh W-League season and despite her young age, she brings European experience and knows what it takes to become a top-four contender.
"I feel like I've entered a new chapter in my life with some big goals ahead. I'm looking forward to showing that on and off the field in Canberra," Maher said.
"It's really exciting because the club is so special to me, Canberra is where I grew up and where my family is based.
"I've grown massively since. Transitioning from an 18-year-old to now 21, I've found my feet a bit; living independently, travelling around the world and just getting a real sense of what I want to do from a football perspective and beyond.
"Now that I've had a bit more experience, I thought it was a good time to come back to Canberra. It feels right and hopefully it means more minutes under my belt."
In four seasons with Canberra, Maher made 28 appearances, scored five goals and was elevated to the Young Matildas squad.
That's where she first met United coach Vicki Linton, who is starting to finalise her roster with several announcements expected in the coming weeks.
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Football Federation Australia, however, is yet to announce a kick off date, season length and format, putting Linton's plans to rebuild the club on hold.
United are striving to end the longest finals drought in club history, having finished outside the top four in the past three seasons.
Maher, who has played W-League finals five times, is confident Canberra has a competitive squad to contest the play-offs amid an uncertain time for the competition.
"I want that win. I want to get Canberra back to the former days when it was a top-four definite and always battling for that championship," Maher said.
"It's a big goal but definitely I think this season, it's a bit uncertain about what teams are going to look like. I do really think Canberra is going to have a competitive squad to make the top four."
Maher is currently playing for Sydney University in the NSW Premier League competition and will join United for the pre-season.
Despite not knowing what the season may look like, the midfielder is just excited to be back playing for the club she grew up supporting.
"I'm just looking forward to having hopefully that team culture, we're going to get around it and compete again," Maher said.
"It feels like the last W-League season was ages ago. Whatever happens in terms of what the league is going to look like and how it's going to be structured, I'm really happy to get back out there with a team like Canberra."