Who is Canberra’s new coach? A ‘rising star’ who built an NPL dynasty arrives in the A-Leagues

Canberra United have a new head coach for the 2024-25 Liberty A-League season, but he is no stranger to the club or women’s football in the state.

Antoni Jagarinec has been promoted from assistant to his first head coaching position in the A-Leagues following the departure of Njegosh Popovich.

The capital club have gone three campaigns without a Finals appearance, having finished second from bottom in 2023-24.

Jagarinec – the ninth coach in the club’s history – will be tasked with overseeing a period of transition at Canberra, who have already lost three star players in Vesna Milivojevic, Chloe Lincoln and Sasha Grove.

“A rising star on the Australian coaching scene”, according to the media release announcing his arrival, the 38-year-old is a name synonymous with football in Canberra and knows the landscape of women’s football in the nation’s capital.

Jagarinec, who was also part of Rae Dower’s support staff at Canberra United in 2015-16 and 2016-17, created a juggernaut in the state.

He delivered unprecedented success to Belconnen United across a stellar 10-year spell, which yielded eight Grand Final victories, seven Federation Cups and nine successive Premierships in the NPLW Capital Football.

A former National Youth League player for Canberra Croatia who also spent time with the ACT Academy of Sport (ACTAS), Jagarinec was around 17 years of age when he took his first steps into coaching.

His brother’s Under-10 team needed a coach and he obliged.

Keen to make an impact change, Jagarinec eventually progressed through the ranks and found himself in charge of Belconnen.

“Historically Belconnen United always had a women’s team but was very heavily a men’s club. I didn’t make many friends on the board, I’ll be honest about that,” Canberra-born Jagarinec previously told Beyond90.

“But I never went in there and demanded to be the same as the boys either. Nor did I give expectations about what we were going to do you know, but there were baseline [issues] that I wouldn’t and didn’t accept.

“[For] the 2010 season I was handed a strip for the first-grade women’s that was four or five years old from under McKellar stadium and had mould on it. 3XL shirts, and that’s one of a million stories.

“Fortunately, at the time Mark O’Neill, former President of Capital Football, was at Belconnen. He was heavily involved with BelNorth too, he was probably one of the guys that kind of shifted me towards Belconnen. I think on reflection, he did see something in me as a coach and as a leader and someone that wanted to effect a little bit of change in that space.

“So I had him in my corner, and we went into war a little bit together. We didn’t always see eye to eye, I promise you that as well. But the change wasn’t to get anything to where the women are now; back then I wasn’t thinking that far ahead.

“Rather, drawing a line in the sand to say, ‘You guys can have your thoughts on this and that, but you will not bully me’. And that kind of was the first domino. With the shirts, I went into the supplier and bought them myself [but the club took notice].

“The first four or five years at Belconnen United cost me a lot of money to coach. And it’s not about money. Still to this day, I don’t do it for the money.

“So it was like [at board level], whoa, this guy wants all this stuff. It wasn’t stupid stuff, it was the same colour cones and a strip that fit the ladies. So we kind of had to back it up.

“And that’s where my biggest strength is, on the park, manipulating the chess pieces, getting people to perform at their best. [Together with] the [right] kind of setup, the dominoes started falling. It was exciting after that.”

Jagarinec also has Tigers FC on his coaching CV, to go with an assistant coach role with O’Connor Knights in the NPL.

Now, he will lead a new-look Canberra United into 2024-25.