Keeping players fit and healthy is top priority for Milicic and Papas

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In a season turned on its head and teams missing up to six weeks of football, two A-League Men’s coaches says it will be the sides who can keep their best performers fit and rearing to go that will find themselves in finals contention.

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After his team – Macarthur FC – managed a 2-2 draw on Saturday night, Ante Milicic had nothing but praise for both his side and the opposition – the Newcastle Jets – given the challenges both have faced this season.

“I thought it was a decent game of football,” he said.

“The reason I say that is because ourselves and Newcastle had such a long pause with Covid. It’s difficult to get back to your way of football after such a long break.

“We played on Wednesday in Tassie and the Jets played on Wednesday as well, so it was a short turnaround for both teams to produce a decent game of football. I think it’s credit to both teams and in the end, I’d say it’s a fair result.

“It’s been a challenging season for everyone, and I thought it was a good game between two decent sides tonight that have had a challenging couple of months.”

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With a number of his big-name players already out with injury, Milicic made the decision to sub Tommy Oar in the 64th minute despite how crucial he was to the match.

“Tommy is playing extremely well but given the travel load and missing preseason I made the decision to get him off,” he said.

“Would I have kept him on in normal circumstances tonight for 90? Yes of course but then what’s the effect of that?

“We’re already down too many players and I can’t take the risk.”

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Given their current third place position on the leadership ladder, Macarthur are top contenders for the premiership this season. Milicic, however, is not resting on his team’s current position, knowing full well there were plenty of time for things to change.

With such a jam-packed fixture and limited time for recovery, Milicic’s main priority remains keeping his team fit and his top performers ready to go.

“The fixture won’t allow recovery because we have the same schedule next week,” he said.

“It’s more important that I don’t lose any more players, that’s the most important part for any team.

“Whoever can keep their better performers fit and whoever has the most depth and whoever can get that right will get the chance to get some decent results moving forward.”

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Jets coach Arthur Papas mimicked Milicic’s sentiment in his post-match press conference, explaining that his main priority was also keeping his team fit and healthy going into the second half of the season.

“It was so important to get through this period without significant injuries,” he said.

“That’s really been the challenge.

“We’ve played seven games in less than a month and apart from some niggles we really haven’t lost players for too long and that’s credit to the players, credit to the staff and the program we run.”

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Having been one of the hardest hit teams in terms of games postponed, Newcastle have had one of the most jam-packed fixtures over the past month.

With this in mind, Papas and his team have made decisions with the health of players at the top of the priority list.

“We’ve taken the approach that if we can get to this period without significant injury, we can get back to focusing purely on performance and the way we want to play rather than just getting people through games,” he said.

“And that’s what we’ve been doing given the circumstances.”

With half the season left to play, both Macarthur and Newcastle will be putting their effort into playing consistent football and getting themselves into finals contention.

Feature Image Credit: Macarthur FC

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Grace Clegg
Grace Clegg
Covering the Newcastle Jets for the 2021/22 season. Studying a Bachelor of Communication (News Media and PR) at the University of Newcastle. Coffee addict.

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