Ante Milicic ‘exhausted’ as Macarthur miss out on finals

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Three consecutive defeats for Macarthur have proven fatal to their hopes of reaching a second A-League Men finals series in as many seasons.

Just four minutes into Macarthur’s must-win match against Newcastle Jets, Ante Milicic threw his arms up and slumped back into his seat.

The visitors had scored the first of what would be three unanswered goals, drawing the curtains on Macarthur’s push for finals qualification.

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“The makeup of our line-up couldn’t go with their speed in transition,” said Milicic in his post-match press conference.

We had a lot of guys coming back from injuries and sickness that have been out for a long while. We just couldn’t go with them. We’re extremely disappointed.”

The Bulls have taken just three points from their last five games – their greatest rivals in the race for the top six, Central Coast Mariners, have taken 10.

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Macarthur’s highest possible finish with one match still to play is seventh. At the conclusion of each of the first five rounds of the season, the Bulls sat at the top of the A-League Men table.

Macarthur did not slip outside of the top four until round 22. The gritty, dogged and undeterred performances that kept them there have felt like a distant memory in the last few weeks.

“There was a lot for our team to play for but for the opposition, I don’t know if they’ve been in the (top) six at any stage this year. They’re playing free, they’re playing a brand of football that – when there’s not a great deal of pressure and expectation – looks good and can be executed,” Milicic said.

“They handled the occasion a lot better than us.”

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When asked about the cause of Macarthur’s stark dip in form since their breakneck start to the season, Milicic referred back to the Bulls’ lengthy COVID-enforced hiatus.

“It’s one thing having a break in football but another thing having a break with COVID. We had one draw and four wins then we had 36 days off. There’s four or five teams that only had a third of that time off. It catches up with you,” he said.

“We never regained that form, that confidence and then ultimately we weren’t good enough to be there come semi-final time.

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Waving goodbye to finals football represents only half of the farewell Macarthur will be bidding come their final ALM fixture on May 8.

With his departure from the Bulls announced and just one match left to play, 48-year-old Milicic is looking forward to his time away from football.

“I’ve been coaching since 2008 without a break and if I’m perfectly honest with you, I’m exhausted,” he said.

“It’s been a big couple of years, particularly with COVID and the passing of my father last year. I need time away from the game.

“Croatia is a place that I’ve got strong ties with and I believe for myself and my family that’s the perfect destination to recharge and see what’s important in the next stages of my life.”

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The ambience of an already relaxed press conference lifted when Milicic responded to a question about a possible return to football in his future.

“I haven’t even got on a plane and you’re talking about coming back. To be perfectly honest, I hope not,” he said.

“I don’t want to look at a laptop, I don’t want to watch games, I don’t want to take phone calls from players, coaches or agents. I can’t go on a holiday now and think that I’m coming back, think that I’m going to work again. Otherwise it’s not a holiday. It’s not a break for me.”

Just like he had done in reference to injuries and COVID cases over the course of the season, Milicic began to ramble together a list. A snowballing one of fantasised freedoms on the eve of being granted.

Like Truman Burbank daydreaming of Fiji, Milicic has both eyes and heart set on his life in Croatia.

“You know what? I want to go to Croatia,” he said.

“I want to watch teams that I enjoy watching as a fan.

I want to watch good quality games at a nice time slot of the day. I want to cheer on Croatia during the World Cup. I don’t have another assignment in me. I’m done. I’m on empty,” he said.

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Milicic and Macarthur will receive a well-earned send-off from their home fans when they face Western Sydney Wanderers on Mother’s Day.

Feature Image Credit: Macarthur FC

Statistics sourced from Ultimate A-League

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Tom Macrae
Tom Macraehttp://medium.com/@macraetomr23
Communications undergrad at Western Sydney University covering Macarthur FC in the 2021/22 season. Newcastle United. Jack Grealish fangirl.

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