It's been a long-time between drinks for Melbourne City but with their season finally set to resume against Sydney FC on Saturday, spearhead Jamie Maclaren now wants some reward for the sacrifices the squad have made.
After two failed attempts to get out of the Victoria and a 14-day quarantine period once they arrived in NSW, City will be the last side in the A-League to kick a ball in anger since the covid restart.
In total, it will have been 131 days between their 2-1 defeat against Newcastle Jets back in March and their game against Sydney FC on Saturday.
Brushing off months of rust with a game against the newly crowned premiers is a baptism of fire for Maclaren and his teammates but the City striker – in his own personal battle with Sky Blues Adam Le Fondre for the Golden Boot – won’t have it any other way.
“It’s been a difficult period,” Maclaren said today. “We’ve had our programs in the off-season to make sure we come back in nick because we weren’t sure we were going to be able to finish the season.
Melbourne City FC and @etihad have unveiled a bespoke #CityzensGiving match-day jersey to recognise the beginning of a global effort to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.— Melbourne City FC (at 🏡) (@MelbourneCity) July 28, 2020
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“The minute we were able to finish the season, we were able to come back and train really hard. We’ve not been able to play but we’re raring to go for this Saturday and we can’t wait to be out there because it’s been a long time between games.
“I think you wouldn’t want [to resume] any other way. You want to play against the best, face the tough oppositions and [Sydney] are clear leaders and premiers of this season. If someone said to me. 'You’ve only got one game to play who do you want to play?' I’d say Sydney.
“We can’t make any excuses that we haven’t played a game, we need to go really hard on Saturday and get that match fitness because we’ve got two more games and then finals so we need to be hitting our straps from the first half onwards.”
City went into quarantine in Sydney with Melbourne Victory and Western United on July 11 before relocating to the Hunter Valley last Saturday. Guaranteed to be playing finals and with the Victorian borders shut, it means that City players won't see their families until at least late August.
Players, like the rest of society, have already seen their lives uprooted by COVID-19 - Maclaren had been engaged to be wed on May 30 - and their hub-based end for the final three games of the regular season is set to present more challenges.
City captain Scott Jamieson’s wife is heavily pregnant back in Melbourne, while Rostyn Griffiths's arrival in Sydney was delayed due to family reasons.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s tough,” said Maclaren. “Everyone has their own individual situation. Jamo [Jamieson] and Griffo [Griffiths] the most severe ones in our team, having to leave behind loved ones.
“It’s not an easy situation, I had to leave my partner for god knows how long and she’s alone in Melbourne by herself. It’s difficult but as I said, everyone across the league, it’s a credit to them because not only on top of that we’ve had salary cuts and things like that to get this league underway.
“I think it’s a huge credit to everyone involved in the A-League – we do it for the good of the game.”