Fair Play: Impressive goalkeeping fete

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's Nov. 17 edition)
IF YOU missed the Springdale vs. Don Bosco football final in the Cebu City Olympics, you missed more than a half of your life. In all my years as a reporter, and my longer stint as a fan, I’ve never seen anything close to what Kenry Balobo, the Don Bosco keeper did.

The match was beautiful and from the get-go, I thought Springdale had it. Sabin Veloso ran the defense to sheds with his speed that mid-way into the half, he had merited a shadow. Don Bosco, too, had their moments--and their counters nearly caught the Springdale defense napping.

In extra time, I was still confident of seeing a victory by Springdale as I stood in the sidelines next to Ray Calo, the assistant coach of Don Bosco whom I had a friendly wager on.

In the shootout, I went past the railing and stood on the rubber track (sorry Ricky B). And I was glad I did as I had a perfect spot to witness history, the birth of a legend.

Three kickers from Springdale stepped up the plate—their proven spot takers—and all three were stopped by Balobo.

Enzo Ceniza, the captain and designated spot kicker, went left and Balobo dived to his right, tapping it out beautifully. Sabin Veloso, whose gave the DBTC defense fits in regulation, also went left and was foiled.

That was a tough one. Showing how strong Veloso’s kick was, the ball was still spinning after Balobo got a hand to it, but it spinned to the post and went away.

Next came Gab Villacin, a curious replacement by coach Mario Ceniza. Villacin is the team’s second keeper, but was utilized as a field player late in the match. I’ve seen this guy take penalties too, and he’s accurate but against Balobo, that accuracy went to naught as he guessed correctly and tapped the ball out.

Three kickers, three saves. Not three misses, but three saves! The fourth and fifth kickers of Springdale didn’t even get their chance as it was all over, 3-0, for Don Bosco.

How brilliant was that showing? Well, ask the silent witness of football at the Cebu City Sports Center, the one in charge of the track maintenance. In all the games, he’s just there, fixing odd ends in the oval or the railing or drainage. All the games.

Do you know what he told the Don Bosco guys? He said he’s never seen anything like it.

The best he could compare it to was when he was still in high school and to another Cebu legend—Gemini Sitoy.

And in Cebu football, that comparison is as high as it could get.

These days, whenever there are talks about who the best keeper from Cebu is, or the best keeper never to have played in the national team, Sitoy’s name always crops up.

And his shot-stopping skills are legendary, winning shootouts in places like Barotac and Cebu’s own little Barotac—San Roque.

And I’m pretty sure that years down the road, should Balobo continue to improve, his name will be mentioned right there along with Sitoy. And his shutout win against Springdale is one for the record books.

Later, when I joined a few parents from Don Bosco—and I paid my wager to Coach Ray—I asked Coach Glenn Ramos how his keeper did it.

He said that aside from practicing penalties during their training, their observant keeper also memorizes how the opposing side take their kicks, filing it away in his mind.

When Enzo scored that penalty for the lone goal against Abellana National School in the elimination round, Coach Glenn told his keeper to file it away.

Kabalo naka asa sila mutira?,” he told him before the shootout, while taking a glance at the designated kickers of Springdale.

“Left, left, right,” he rattled on before letting in a shred of doubt, “What if they’ll change it coach?”

Whether they changed it or not, Balobo read the Springdale kickers like his favorite textbook. 


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