David Lowe: Departing champions set standard

IT was a pretty quiet and relaxing weekend, unless you're a friend or relative of Roger Federer or John Kosmina, wasn't it?A week's break in the A-League, and only 27 players signed contracts in Asia and flew the coop!OK, that's an exaggeration, but it seems like every time you pick up a paper, someone else is toddling off to either fill the coffers, or the glaringly large A-League off-season break.One footballer departing the scene for entirely different reasons is Matildas captain and proud Novocastrian, Cheryl Salisbury. Anyone who represents their country over 150 times has obviously got a lot of talent, and a lot to be proud of. To do it, so often at your own expense, speaks volumes for your dedication, application and ability.Congratulations Cheryl, may the waves form beautifully wherever you are. Enjoy your new life.Hot on the heels of Cheryl's retirement will come the departure of vice-captain Joey Peters.Rumour has it that Joey is quitting to become a recording artist, after recent publicity and a CD release! She is actually very serious about becoming the best coach she can be, and is a busy planner, thinker and organiser.I feel a lot more qualified to talk about Joey as a player than Cheryl, having been very fortunate to run a dozen or so sessions with the Newcastle-based Matildas when Jets assistant coach Mark Jones's commitments overlapped with his NSWIS program.With "Chez" nursing long-term injuries and undertaking a specially designed program, it was usually Joey who set the standard at training.And it was quite some standard. In a group that included a top-quality striker like Katie Gill, the lovely feet and game sense of Amber Nielson and the power and energy of Lauren Colthorpe, Joey was still the main lady.Joey does some coaching at Hunter Sports High, and I recently asked the bubbly youngster Hannah Brewer, who plays for the Jets women's team, who was the best player there.I had done it deliberately with Joey within earshot, and Hannah, wise to the old dog, responded instantly with a concealed finger pointing to Joey, confirming my thought but not flattering the target.I don't claim to be an expert on women's football, but I reckon I know a good player when I see one.A dozen or so years ago I attended a high-performance coaching course in Canberra and was absolutely surprised and impressed at the all-round ability of Julie Murray, arguably Australia's best-ever female player.To tell you that seeing Joey Peters in action up close reminded me so much of that experience is testament to the quality of a terrific footballer.And as I honour two great servants to the code, I'll answer a question that often pops up when discussion of the women's game takes place.I was reminded of this thought when the Serena Williams victory over Andy Roddick, when both were youngsters, brought such mirth to everyone in the tennis world. How good is the standard?Things obviously change as males get older and stronger, but 18 months ago, a team of Gill, Nielson, Colthorpe, Peters and Salisbury would have probably won eight out of 10 matches against talented Newcastle youngsters Ben Kantarovski, Jason Hoffman, James Virgili, Jarrad Ross and Jon Griffiths, provided the dimensions of the playing area were not too large.Never doubt it these ladies can really play. Elsewhere, apparently, there is some sort of semi-final series going on. I know I should be more enthusiastic, but isn't it hard to get excited in comparison to the fully charged involvement we enjoyed on the ride with the Jets last year?In fairness though, the league table rarely lies, and the four best sides throughout the season have earned their place.History suggests that either Melbourne or Adelaide will take the title, with their home-ground advantage courtesy of a top-two finish expected to play a big part.Melbourne or Adelaide will host the grand final, and the FFA I'm sure are secretly hoping that the Victorians win through first and replenish the coffers with a 50,000 grand final gate not logistically possible elsewhere.Telstra Dome management will also be keen to see if the Victory advance to host the big day, so they can finalise plans for a surprise BYO glass bottles "rave" the night before.Statistically, either Melbourne or Adelaide are about 85 per cent likely to take the title, but I reckon if Queensland can overcome the Mariners in the two-legged minor semi-final, they could spring an upset.They are capable of winning away from home in consecutive weeks against Adelaide and Melbourne, or vice versa, whereas I doubt the Mariners can maintain the defensive consistency to do that.Be warned though, that Queensland are not over the line against the Mariners. Lawrie McKinna's men have a habit of upsetting some of the supposed "bigger teams", and his side has the physical presence up front to ruffle a usually rock-solid Queensland defence.Good news for Mariners fans is that leading scorer Matt Simon is due a goal, having been anchored by the millstone of my small wager that he would be the league's top goalscorer in recent rounds.He finished just one goal shy of Shane Smeltz, I finished with nothing, and no doubt he'll score in consecutive weeks just to rub my nose in it.It's likely to be a cagey round of first-leg semi-final matches, particularly the Adelaide-Melbourne clash, with caution and care paramount.Next week, I hope to be in a position to forecast the semi-final outcomes, discuss the Jets' new signings for the ACL campaign, and possibly outline how you guys can help me get to Japan to see the Jets play live.Until then, sayonara.

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