JETS veteran Michael Bridges will remain a true professional until his last kick after announcing on Tuesday that he will retire at season’s end.
With Newcastle needing a final-round miracle to make the finals, there would appear to be an opportunity to allow Bridges, pictured, to start in Friday’s home game against Adelaide and savour a sentimental swansong.
But the 35-year-old said the team had to come first and he was quite content to make his usual contribution as a second-half substitute.
‘‘I’d like to be able to start in every match,’’ Bridges said yesterday.
‘‘But I have to be realistic. I couldn’t last.
‘‘That’s why I’ve got to play my part and hopefully come on [as substitute] ... and give a spark or hopefully get a goal and keep us in the game.
‘‘I know realistically what I’ve got to do and what I’m capable of, and my role is coming off the bench.’’
To reach the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, seventh-placed Newcastle need to beat Adelaide and hope that Perth upset sixth-placed Sydney.
There would also need to be a three-goal swing in the respective for-and-against statistics of the two teams.
It would require an unlikely sequence of events but Bridges refuses to give up hope.
‘‘We’ve got a few games to go, hopefully,’’ he said.
‘‘The big one is on Friday night, then hopefully a few more after that in the finals.’’
During a professional career that kicked off with Sunderland in 1995, Bridges competed in all four tiers of the English football league system for an array of clubs including Leeds United, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers, Bristol City, Carlisle United, Hull City and Milton Keynes Dons.
After a nine-game stint with Sydney FC in 2007-08, he joined Newcastle a year later and racked up more games – 65 – for the Jets than any club except Sunderland.
‘‘I’ve got so many highlights and so many lowlights,’’ he said.
‘‘The highlights were playing Champions League football, finishing third in the Premier League, Leeds United top scorer ... coming over here, and some spectacular goals I’ve scored over my career that I can look back on and show my kids.
‘‘There’s been some horror misses, some horror injuries and some horror managers in the days gone by.’’
Asked to nominate any standout memory, he pinpointed one of his performances as a teenaged tyro.
‘‘There was a game I remember playing against one of my heroes, Steve Bruce,’’ Bridges recalled.
‘‘He went to Sheffield United after he left Manchester. It was one of his final games.
‘‘I’ll never forget one of his comments – I was 16 or 17 – and he said he was going to hang his boots up due to the runaround this young boy gave him.
‘‘I managed to score two goals and tie Steve Bruce in knots.That was when I realised I had a good chance in the game.’’
On reflection, Bridges said he was at the peak of his powers when he joined Leeds United, only to experience a cruel run of physical setbacks.
‘‘I played my best football at Leeds from 99-02, before the injury at Besiktas, where I snapped my ankle and then the Achilles tendon snapped,’’ he said.
‘‘I knew from that moment I would struggle to get back to the heights.
‘‘I’ve always had a good, technically gifted football brain, but believe it or not I was a flying machine back then. I had legs and pace to burn, and I just knew I didn’t have that sharpness.
‘‘I knew after that it was a case of finding my level in the game and not having unrealistic ambitions.’’
The popular Geordie, who scored one of his career-best goals two weeks ago in Newcastle’s win against Wellington, had a short-lived retirement three years ago when then Jets coach Branko Culina convinced him to blow full-time.
He was back on the pitch a few months later and has since squeezed in another 43 A-League games, scoring 11 goals. He is adamant this time there will be no such backflip.
‘‘The time’s right,’’ he said.
‘‘I’ve got my head around it this time. Last time I still felt like I had unfinished business but there’s no time like the present.’’
Bridges has a number of employment avenues to explore, starting with a stint leading a tour group to the World Cup in Brazil this year.
‘‘I want to do coaching. I love doing media work.
‘‘Hopefully we can sort something out. I know the Newcastle Jets want to keep us at the football club in some capacity so it’s about sitting down and sorting something out with them.’’