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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Pagonis

Calder and Salisbury Inter relishing the underdog tag for WNPL & WSL Cup Final

Salisbury Inter swept the South Australian women’s football landscape only two seasons ago to claim a treble. In 2023, after experiencing squad turnover the last two off-seasons, the club once again competes for silverware in the WNPL & WSL Cup Final tomorrow night. Co-captain Nicole Calder spoke to Front Page Football about the occasion.

Nicole Calder (left) with teammates Maria Rojas (centre), who has since left the club, and Chantelle Ryder (right) celebrating their side's 2021 three-peat. (Adam Butler/@8zerokms)


Tom Monsigneur's Adelaide Comets have been a dominant force in the WNPL SA in 2023, only losing three games between pre-season, league, and cup competitions while securing the premiership. The Comets beat West Torrens Birkalla to qualify for the WNPL & WSL Cup Final. But they will now meet a foe that has caused them trouble in this campaign.


Two of the Comets' three defeats in 2023 have come at the hands of Salisbury Inter. Nicole Calder, who shared that the closing gap between the top and bottom teams in the competition has made 2023's WNPL season one of the most exciting yet, spoke to FPF about her side's two previous victories over the premiers.


"I think with anything, regardless of how well they are doing in the year, like any team, on any given day, they are beatable, and it is one of those things where the mentality is extremely important," Calder explained.


Salisbury Inter defeated the Comets 5-0 in the WNPL & WSL Pre-Season Cup before downing Monsigneur's side 4-2 in the regular season. Despite losing to the Comets in their last encounter and finding themselves a hefty 14 points behind them on the league ladder, Calder is confident her side can again upstage their fancied opponents.

"The players that they have added to their squad have strengthened them a lot, which only makes them more difficult to beat, but I think having beaten them twice this year, if people consider the Pre-Season Cup to be one of those times, gives us confidence going into the game," she said.


"We are not going into this game thinking that we have no chance; there is definitely belief that we can beat them, but also, we are very well aware that they’ve got quality running through that whole team."


Unlike 2021, when Inter swept the state's women's silverware sweepstakes to seal a treble, Tony Scalzi's side enters the WNPL & WSL Cup Final a firm underdog, a fact only reinforced after they lost their most recent encounter against their opponents by four goals in July. Calder shared she is relishing the underdog tag and that the recent loss to Comets may serve as an essential wake-up call for her side, something Comets coach Monsigneur admitted his team's defeat to Inter was in the league earlier in the season.


"I like being the underdog; I think Australia likes the underdogs too; you can see it at the World Cup with who they’ve been rooting for in some of the games," Calder shared.


"Sometimes you can also get yourself into a false sense of security when you have always beaten a team because you think you can just continue to beat them and it will just happen for you; you can sometimes lose focus. But when you get that wake-up call, it changes things. If we gave them a wake-up call earlier in the year, that was extra motivation for them the next time they played us, so maybe we have that on our side this time around as they beat us last time."


When looking at the Comets juggernaut, it is hard to pinpoint just one area of strength. Having encountered Comets multiple times in 2023, Calder highlighted the Sasaki sisters in midfield and their prolific attack as areas her team needs to be wary of heading into the Final.


"They’ve got a lot of strength throughout their entire side, and it would be naïve to overlook the role that the Sasaki sisters play in the team. I constantly say that I hate playing against Yuka because she is an amazing player; Nano is obviously a phenomenal player, too," Calder shared.


"The thing about Comets, and if you look at any of the teams that have won trebles in the past couple of years, the one thing that they have had in common is that they have had multiple prolific goal scorers. They’ve got so many players that can score, and when you are defending against that, you can’t just worry about one player; you have to worry about absolutely every single player because anywhere on the pitch, they can score.


"That was shown in the last game that we played them (Comets) when I managed to get a block on Chrissy’s (Panagaris) shot, and the ball rebounded to Ally Ladas on the wing, and she was happy to score from the wing, and you just think, ‘How do you defend that?"


Despite her team being one of few sides that have scored a handful of goals against the Adelaide Comets this season, Calder recognises that clear-cut opportunities may be hard to come by in a Cup Final. While making life hard for their opponents is crucial, Salisbury Inter's co-captain hopes her side has no regrets in front of goal when the final whistle is blown tomorrow night.


"You often hear coaches say that their team had lots of opportunities but just couldn’t put them away, and for any team in a big game, it is about capitalising on whatever opportunities you have. With Comets, you are not going to get many opportunities. Whatever opportunities you do have, you have to make sure that it is clinical," she said.

 

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Calder admires the work of the Comets. But being a part of a treble-winning side in 2021 herself, she has extra motivation to win a match that could deprive her opponents of similar joy. She shared that some West Adelaide players, who won their treble in 2022, also have similar thoughts and will be routing for Inter on Cup Final day.


"It is funny because there have been a few players from West Adelaide that have spoken to us saying, ‘You can't let the Comets win the treble because if they win the treble, it takes away from our treble last year, and yours in 2021!" Calder shared.


"There definitely is that in there that we hold the cards right now with the Cup Final to potentially deprive them of the treble. But Comets have been extremely impressive all year, and you cannot deny they’ve had a fantastic season. To go through the whole season with, as it stands, two losses and one draw, that is an incredible effort for any team, so regardless of what happens, Tom (Monsigneur) and the girls will be extremely happy with how they’ve played. But yes, we will use it as motivation because we want that silverware too, and we won’t make it easy for them; it would be extremely satisfying to deprive them of that."


Having been the favourite and the underdog during her time at Salisbury Inter, Calder embraces her side as the one doing the chasing. With pressure on the Adelaide Comets' side, Salisbury Inter will try to overwhelm their talented opposition on their big day.


"I think that when you are the underdog, and you are not expected to win, those wins are almost more satisfying than when you are expected to win. It almost makes those wins a bit more satisfying because it is not a relief but excitement. I know that when you are expected to win, there is that pressure; you almost don’t get to enjoy the win as much," Calder said.


"Comets have obviously been the team to beat; they set out at the beginning of the season that they wanted to make history for their club, and they’ve done that, which is amazing, but you have a target on your back when you are the team to beat."


It is an exciting time to be involved in women's football. Tomorrow night will provide an opportunity for two clubs putting in a lot of hard work for the women's game, both at the grassroots and senior level, to enjoy the fruits of their labour.


Regardless of who lifts the trophy at the end, these two sides may meet again during the WNPL Finals Series. Despite none of their three games being close on the scoreboard in 2023, you cannot predict the winner with any confidence, as either side on their day is a force to be reckoned with.


Click here to read more of FPF's coverage of local Australian football!

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