Special Feature - Cheryl Salisbury

Cheryl Salisbury been at the forefront of Australian women's soccer and has been a major part in its rising success.

Qantas Matildas captain Cheryl Salisbury been at the forefront of Australian women's soccer and has been a major part in its rising success.

In her hometown of Newcastle, Cheryl started playing soccer with the neighbourhood boys from an early age, completely oblivious to women's soccer on an international scale.

"As a kid I grew up in a neighbourhood full of boys so whatever the season was, that was the sport that I played," Salisbury said.

"Being a girl, soccer was a bit nicer a game than say rugby league that was also played with the neighbourhood kids."

"When I first started I'd be playing in the guys and men's teams since I was a 7-year-old so when I first started with women's soccer I had no idea of other girls that played or even other countries that played soccer, I was pretty naïve.

"Back then it wasn't the game it is today, I've been fortunate to see it grow over the years."

And seen it grow she has.

Salisbury is the most capped Matildas player (113 appearances) and holds the record for most goals (29 goals).

Salisbury has been there since women's soccer began to take off in Australia. She is the only Australian to have played in every senior women's FIFA event in which Australia has competed - the FIFA Women's World Cups of 1995, 1999, and 2003, and the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Olympics.

Despite all her feats, Salisbury is still motivated and driven to see the Matildas succeed, it's part of who she is. She loves soccer.

"Motivation, it's just part of who are," she said.

"I love to play - whether you're out training or over in an international competition you still love to play.

"There are those days that you wake up and you just don't feel like going and you have to push yourself to go like any other job."

Since Australian women's soccer's humble beginnings, Salisbury has been amazed with the national team's rapid rise and also the improvement in women's soccer in general.

"The standard has improved out of sight," Salisbury said.

"My first international competition I didn't have any idea as to how good other countries could be."

"Coming in as a 17 or 18 year old, having only ever played with guys all my life it wasn't a huge step to play with the national team, but when I realised the standard of competition overseas, some of girls in the US were phenomenal players and that was a real eye-opener for me".

"To see the standard from the first World Cup in 1995 to the standard of the Olympics in 2004 it's incredible to see the amount of improvement throughout every country as well as individual players. The game-sense, skill and fitness levels they have now."

After some encouraging results, the Matildas are in good form heading into the World Cup qualifiers in Australia in July.

In front of home crowds, Salisbury said it was important to show young girls who start playing soccer there are pathways for women to become successful.

"Girls will stay in the game if they love and enjoy it, it's obviously still a very male dominated sport at a young age more boys play than girls," Salisbury said.

"At that age they generally see only the male Socceroo players as idols and I think if we can get out there and have the Matildas seen-you can go a World Cup, you can play at the Olympics for Australia if you want to be female soccer player-I think more girls will stay within the sport.

"They'll have idols and they'll have dreams and they'll have ambitions."

Playing competitively for so long, the years of soccer are beginning to catch up with Salisbury's body, especially her knees.

Salisbury has marked down the 2008 Olympics as her main goal and said she will consider her future after that.

"I'm looking at the moment with age and my knee's are starting to come unstuck a little bit but I still have the passion to want to play and the drive to still be out there knowing that I'm going to be sore," Salisbury said.

"We have a great medical team and Tommy's great with the fact I can't train every session."

"I'm definitely looking forward to the 2008 Beijing Olympics and I'd say after that it might be my time but then again, you never know!"