"The Keeper". It is a title that very few are worthy of. It is a title that is only reserved for a few. It is a title that holds the game in the grip of its hand, a game that is perched on the edge of a mountainside cliff, ready to plummet to the hard rock beyond one's sight through the mist and the fog, or to forever stand so close to the sky on top of creation itself.
Ever-watching eyes dart through confusion, piercing irregular patterns and chaotic movement. I'd imagine observing a match from between the posts would be similar to following dogs wander through a snow covered field following the sporadic path of a squirrel. I cannot imagine the speed at which the constant possibility of game changing events sitting upon the shoulders of one man is always present.
Clint Irwin, in his first few games as a professional goalkeeper has already saved a penalty kick and faced four. I was amazed to watch Mr. Irwin correctly read each attacker correctly all four times. In two PK's, Irwin guessed correctly but couldn't quite put himself in front of the ball soon enough. One, he saved, and the last hit the crossbar in which his hand was one foot below. Chances are, he would have saved it. Needless to say, he read each penalty kick correctly.
So, what does Clint see? How does he read each player so well? It's a talent, an art if you will. So let's attempt to walk through the art of the keeper, through his eyes.
The foul is struck, a scene that has occurred too many times. The card is pulled and the keeper wonders if the haphazard penalty occurred inside of the eighteen. In this case, it did.
Arguing ensues. Yelling, complaining, some points warranted, some not. Eventually, the unflinching man in yellow slinks away denying all requests for an appeal. Time passes, what seems like years to the keeper. He knows the destiny that lies before him. He will face another, and he knows, that only one will emerge victorious.
The dangerous striker swaggers forward, oozing a confidence that's only found in action movies and fairy tale princes. He crosses the threshold into enemy territory. The keeper's territory. The unwanted opponent places the ball on the ground while staring at the keeper for the duration of the process. Not intimated, the keeper closes his eyes, hoping not to see stars floating randomly in the darkness. A hint of dizziness comes over the keeper as his blood pressure drops and his heart skips a beat, but he soon recovers replacing his skipping heart with a shot of pure adrenaline narrowing his pupils and gritting his teeth. Beads of sweat fall from the crown of his forehead to his chin, making their way through the maze of unkempt fur, ultimately releasing themselves from the scruff infested skin that has riddled the cheek bones of the keeper. He finally forces his mind to bend his knees and raise his hands in anticipation of the inevitable turn of events spanning out before him.
The striker's spikes pierce the ground beneath them causing turmoil in the grass below him. He eyes the ball, and the places his attention on the keeper. The whistle blows, implying that the dual has begun. A feeling close to anger sets in as the keeper stands prepared to do battle. The striker moves, his speed and technique a distant memory in the mind of the keeper. The striker's hips shift back and forth like a child's ride at a carnival, and his foot turns betraying his own intentions. The keeper, like a private investigator has solved the mystery. The smallest movement, the smallest lack of confidence has done the striker in. The decision has been made. Committing himself to one movement, with no chance of altering his decision, the keeper flies full fledged, in full sprawl, in one direction. Eyes wide, though they feel closed, the ball hits his hand in a flash moment, though it feels like years since the striker sold himself out. Impact destroys the ribs and the fibers of muscle surrounding them as he hits the ground and rolls into a ball next to the near post. His eyes lay claim to the ball that lands before him in what seems like a submissive fashion. Cheers and chants fill his ears as he decides whether he wants to stand, or enjoy the soft grass that encompasses his body in a bed of relief.
He's done it. He's saved the goal, and possibly the game.