TO REACH the top most professionals have dedicated themselves to the game for as long as they can remember. It's a closeted, intense, and focused life. Players, especially those at the upper levels in Europe, live in a bubble, and to say that most of them get tunnel vision is probably an understatement.
So when something unforeseen happens away from the game it not only gives them pause for thought; it can also bring a fundamental change in the way they view their whole approach to life.
Nick Montgomery, the Central Coast Mariners' Leeds-born-and-raised midfielder, knows how priorities can change in an instant.
The 31-year-old spent 12 years with Sheffield United - a decade in the Championship, an ill-starred season in the English Premier League and a chaotic campaign in League One. It was during the last of his dozen years with the South Yorkshire side, the one it spent in the third tier of the English game, that his priorities changed completely and ultimately led to him taking up the opportunity and the challenge of a spell in the A-League with the Mariners.
Montgomery had lived, breathed and thought about little else other than soccer, until his wife, Josie, gave birth to twin girls Chloe and Leah, who were born two months prematurely. It was their fight for life and the subsequent struggles his daughters had surviving viral meningitis and other problems associated with premature birth that altered his perspective and led him to seek a fresh challenge on the other side of the world.
Having quickly cemented a role in the Mariners' side and thrown himself into life in Gosford, on the New South Wales central coast, it's not a move Montgomery is regretting.
He has played in many big matches - including play-off finals at Wembley in front of massive crowds - but is looking forward to Saturday night's debut at Etihad Stadium. It should be a healthy crowd as the in-form Mariners face the resurgent Victory in what will be a good guide for both clubs on where they stand a quarter of the way into the season.
''I am really enjoying things here. We have made a great start to the season and I have no regrets about moving to Australia. So far it's been great for us as a family and in my football,'' Montgomery says.
''Things didn't go well for me in that last year in England. I had spent all that summer in hospital with the kids in intensive care. For five or six months I was backwards and forwards to the hospital with the kids and for all of that time football became irrelevant to me, for the first time in my life.
''They are now perfectly fine, but it was a tough start to parenting. At the time I was captain of the club, but football became unimportant. I knew it was time for me to get a fresh start and when the option of Australia came up I grabbed it with both hands. I could have stayed in the Championship, I had inquiries, but decided to leave.
''Australia appealed to me for a long time. My dad had lived here for a couple of years when he was young, so he was encouraging. I was the right age and it was the right time of my career, and having small children, none of them in school, they didn't have to leave friends behind, so the adjustment would be easier.
''After playing for so many years in the Championship and that one season in the Premier League, I just wanted a new experience. A lot of players in England, when they get to around 30, they look at maybe wanting to go abroad to America or Australia. I have even got friends who have been to Indonesia. A lot of people say it, but when it comes down to it a lot of people find it a problem to move from family in the UK or move kids from school. For me, it wasn't such a big issue.''
It has only been six weeks now, but Montgomery is impressed by what he has seen in his new league.
''It's a good standard. It's improving every year by all accounts and the likes of [Alessandro] Del Piero, [Emile] Heskey, players like that coming here, it shows how much it's grown,'' he said. ''It's a bit different to the UK regarding the style of football - it's not as fast or physical - but the lads technically are very good. There's a mix of young lads coming through, exciting talents who have a real future.''
And his now 19-month-old daughters? ''They are fine now. I was so embroiled in football all my life, but when it happened it made me stand back and realise that there's more to life than football and it's great to live the life we are now living. They have been outdoors nearly every day; they are thriving, as I knew they would.''
WEEK 7 (All times AEDST)
Roar v Sydney FC
Suncorp Stadium, 8pm
Oh dear. The desperate v the dateless? The hapless v the hopeless? The (former) champs v the chumps? What a lot of fun the marketing men might have in coming up with a slogan for this one. Last week, Brisbane put up its worst display in more than two years, according to its coach, who slammed the players to a man and said some didn't look interested. Sydney's collapse against Victory precipitated the resignation of coach Ian Crook and plunged the club into a crisis. Bad as Brisbane were last week it can win this.
Adelaide United v Heart
Hindmarsh Stadium, Saturday, 5.30pm
Big test for the Heart who took a major step forward last weekend with that 4-1 win over Brisbane. But was that because they were really good, or because Brisbane were awful. Josip Tadic looked a real player, while Richie Garcia's fizz in a forward midfield role gave them grunt and a cutting edge. Adelaide is chugging along nicely enough and will be tough nuts to beat at home. But Heart has fared well enough at Hindmarsh historically, at least enough to get a draw here.
Victory v Mariners
Etihad Stadium, Saturday 7.45pm
If Friday night's fixture is the match of the round for car crash ghouls, then this is the marquee match-up for the rest of us. It promises to be a fascinating contest. Right now, the Marines are looking the most complete team in the competition, a mix of guile and grit, steel and silk, well coached with a hard professional edge. Victory is on a roll, but the Postecoglou project still has plenty of upside. Will this be a reality check for Ange's men, or a roadblock for the Mariners. Money at this stage might be on Graham Arnold's side.
Jets v Phoenix
Hunter Stadium. Sunday, 3pm
It's an amazing statistic, but, according to the A-League website, in 16 encounters there has never been a draw between these two teams. Think about it. If you backed the draw every time, starting with a $1 stake and doubled up to chase your losses, you would have already lost more than $65,000 and would be wagering that, and change, on this finishing level this time round just so you could get square. Think about that the next time a Fox Sports voice-over exhorts you to make the game a bit more interesting by having a punt on the outcome. Jets to win this one for me.
Glory v Wanderers
nib Stadium, Sunday, 5pm
First trip to the golden west for the team from Sydney's west, and it could be a torrid journey. West Sydney have been good in recent weeks, but this will be an altogther stiffer test. The Glory, like the Mariners, are tough, experienced, skilful and physical in equal measure, like all championship contending teams in all leagues. They will be thereabouts again this year, and should be too strong for the new boys at home.