IN Greek Mythology, the Trojan War was waged against the city of Troy by the Achaeans (Greeks).
When the Prince of Troy, took Helen from her husband Menelaus, the King of Sparta, it was touted that 1000 ships were launched to bring her back. Legend has it that Helen was seen as the most beautiful woman in the known world, and the phrase was coined, ‘The face that launched a thousand ships.’
The war with the Trojans was one of the most important events in Greek mythology and has been narrated throughout many works of Greek literature with the most notable being Homer’s Iliad.
The core of these books describes a period of four days and two nights in the 10th year of the decade long siege of Troy. The most famous warrior written about within the texts was Achilles, said to have been the greatest of all the Greek warriors, who famously died when he was pierced with an arrow through his ankle.
During the war Achilles is quoted as saying: “I’ll tell you a secret. Something they don’t teach you in your temple. The Gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment might be our last.
“Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.”
He is of course detailing the pitfalls of battle and how at any moment his life could have been ended, as well as alluding to the fact that death is inevitable. This, to him, made life more beautiful because it was ‘doomed’ but the point of ruin was undetermined which spurred him to live his life to his fullest.
During the Premier League clash between Manchester City and defending champions Liverpool, I watched as the champions fell to a 4-1 defeat.
After the game, Liverpool’s Brazilian goalkeeper, Alisson Becker, came under an enormous amount of scrutiny for his performance. During a three/four-minute section midway through the second half, his distribution was a major cause of City’s dominance in this period culminating in two goals and effectively handing them the game.
Alisson even concluded after the game that it was his fault that they lost the game and without those mistakes the game may have ended differently.
The lesson for all goalkeepers to learn from this is that no matter how great you become as a goalkeeper, you can always have an off day. You can practice and prepare as much as you want but sometimes there are games when nothing goes right for you.
There will even be games you will be playing well in, maybe even having the game of your life but for one off-second/minute that causes a mistake with the deadliest of consequences.
On Sunday, Alisson faced his mortality in a sporting context, experiencing a number of mistakes that had unfortunate consequences both for himself and his team. In regard to GAA, it is akin to Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan’s notorious wayward goal-kick in the 2014 All-Ireland final against Kerry that gifted Kieran Donaghy a three-pointer.
The goal put Kerry in a commanding position entering into the final 15 minutes of the game. Just like Alisson Becker, the unfortunate mishap faced Durcan with the ‘mortality’ of being a goalkeeper.
In April 2015, I was faced with my own goalkeeping ‘mortality’. With Armagh we played Sligo down in Markievicz Park in the final game of Division Three.
I had started the two previous games and performed well, so another strong performance was expected from me.
In the warm-up I badly staved my finger, continuing to feel the effects for most of the first half. I was already anxious heading into the game so suffering a hand injury before throw-in only fed that anxiety further.
For the whole game, my play was nervy and jittery, I just couldn’t get any rhythm or shake off the mental effects of the finger injury. It was my worst game in the orange jersey.
My performance did affect the team as a whole and as a result we did end up being beaten by a 1-19 to 1-8 scoreline.
A fair amount of the rest of the team that also played under par that day but our performance that day was underpinned by my own-mistake-ridden performance. I ended up being dropped for the next game which was the Division Three league final, which we won against Fermanagh in Croke Park.
Just as Achilles had alluded to, the goalkeeper position has an exceptionally high ‘mortality’ component whereby our actions are magnified exponentially. A goalkeeping mistake that would be nonchalant if it occurred further outfield or by an outfield player is amplified to an apocalyptic event whenever it happens within the goalmouth/crease.
I would urge all goalkeepers, no matter their age or experience, to remember that deep down it is these ‘life or death’ situations that ultimately make us want to be goalkeepers.
Like an adrenaline junkie looking for their next fix, goalkeepers know and love the pressures that come with playing the position and our challenge is being able to perform our goalkeeping duties under such pressures, consistently.
The satisfaction that comes with performing under pressure is of course coupled with the extreme lows of failing under these conditions.
But the reason that we fall is so that we can pick ourselves back up. When catastrophe strikes and our only feeling is wishing the ground would open and swallow us whole, the best actions any goalkeeper can take in that instance is to take a deep breath, own the mistake and focus their efforts to ensuring those mistakes do not happen again.
Playing in goal can be a very fickle position to play.
All goalkeepers are scrutinised by their actions, by their performances and ultimately by the decisions they make under pressure. It is this ‘live or die’ environment that creates greatness, this high risk and reward atmosphere that ultimately motivates us. In goalkeeping terms it could be said it is ‘The Gift of Mortality.’