He may have won everything there is to win in Australian football but Mark Bridge admits he feels ‘like a kid again’ as he prepares to play his first National Premier Leagues game in 15 years.
After a glittering career which included two Hyundai A-League Championships, two Hyundai A-League Premierships and an AFC Asian Champions League winners' medal, the 33-year-old departed the professional arena at the end of the 2018/19 Season as a Western Sydney Wanderers legend.
The next chapter is set to begin this weekend as Bridge’s new club, Mounties Wanderers – who lie fifth in NPL NSW 2 – travel to Northbridge Oval to face the high-flying North Shore Mariners.
Despite having more than 250 Hyundai A-League games under his belt, there are no guarantees ‘King Bridge’ will be in from the start against the team placed second in the NPL's second tier.
Regardless, the two-cap Caltex Socceroo has been savouring every moment of his new lease of football life.
“It still feels a little bit weird. Up until this week it felt like a normal off-season, now that I have started training with the team and the boys, it’s starting to be real and I am enjoying it,” he told Football NSW.
“The training standard has been good and it’s exciting. A new challenge, as you want to play – I didn’t want to come in and not play.
“If I need to work my way in because they are doing so well, [then] I need to work my way in. Simple as that.
“In terms of coming back to club football, I felt like a kid again. Last night training in the rain and the mud, it brings back that love of the game.
“[It] hammered home the fact – yep, I still love it and I am glad to be playing with and surrounded by guys that still enjoy the game.”
Bridge has not turned out in an NPL game since 2004 – before the Hyundai A-League existed – but the former Parramatta Eagles junior is impressed at what he has seen so far.
“The standard surprised me, everyone sort of thinks that going down to NPL or NPL 2 the standard is not there, but the standard is definitely there,” Bridge said.
“I think there is going to be a push of older A-League players to come and help the younger players in NPL clubs – show [them] what it takes and see what they have got to do to get to the next level.
“Going from grass to artificial [playing surface], that’s going to be the biggest challenge initially, especially as the body is adjusting to it. As long as I do the right things off the pitch for the body I should be alright.”
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