Mark Birighitti saves the day

KEEPING FOCUS: Mark Birighitti refuses to get ahead of himself.
KEEPING FOCUS: Mark Birighitti refuses to get ahead of himself.

MARK Birighitti holds his destiny in his own gloved hands, which is all he ever wanted.

After spending four seasons at Adelaide in the sizeable shadow of Eugene Galekovic, the former Young Socceroos goalkeeper packed his swag and headed to Newcastle intent on establishing himself as an A-League regular.

After five games with the Jets, he appears well on his way.

The 21-year-old made a host of crucial saves in Saturday’s 2-1 win against Western Sydney Wanderers, and if not for his acrobatics, Newcastle may well have suffered a different fate.

‘‘He’s developing nicely. He’s still got a long, long way to go, but it’s good when your keeper can put the Superman cape on and save the day,’’ Jets coach Gary van Egmond said afterwards.

Birighitti realised he could take nothing for granted in Newcastle.

He had eight A-League games to his name. The incumbent Newcastle gloveman, Ben Kennedy, had more than 10 times as many and was last season’s player of the year.

Even after receiving the nod for the season-opener, there was no easy ride for Birighitti.

He was sent off in the round-one game against his former club for handling the ball outside the box, incurring a one-match suspension, an initiation that would have dented the confidence of even a grizzled veteran.

Birighitti took that setback in his stride. 

Then Kennedy had misfortune of his own, suffering a knee injury that required surgery, allowing the newcomer to firmly grasp the jersey both covet.

‘‘Ben’s a fantastic goalkeeper,’’ Birighitti told the Newcastle Herald.

‘‘Fortunately for me I got the opportunity when he went down injured and I’ve tried to take it with both hands.

‘‘But I can’t drop my standards because I have to keep performing at a high level.

‘‘It’s not only Ben, we also have another good goalkeeper at the club in Jack Duncan who’s away with the Young Socceroos.

‘‘I’ve got a lot of pressure on me from those two, but that’s a good pressure to have because it keeps you on your toes.’’

Birighitti is no stranger to frustration and adversity.

After debuting in the A-League as a 17-year-old, he was soon relegated to the role of Galekovic’s understudy, which meant he spent many hours on the bench as an impatient spectator.

‘‘I had a tough four years while I was in Adelaide,’’ Birighitti said.

‘‘That was the main reason I came to Newcastle, to get that No.1 spot.

‘‘It’s going to help playing well and helping to get the team over the line, but I’ve just got to keep going.

‘‘I can’t get ahead of myself. I’ve just got to keep pushing hard in training and keep raising the standard.’’

Asked if his performance against Western Sydney was the best of his fledgling career, Birighitti said he was equally satisfied with his display in the similarly tense 2-1 win at home to Melbourne Victory.

On both occasions, Newcastle grimly defended against an opponent desperately searching for an equaliser.

What made the win at Parramatta Stadium even more special was the loss of midfielder Jacob Pepper, who was sent off in the last minute of regular time.

‘‘No-one enjoys it when you go down to 10 men,’’ Birighitti said.

‘‘Lucky it was late on in the game.

‘‘If it was earlier in the second half, it might have been a different story.

‘‘But full credit to the boys, we got three points. 

‘‘Now we’ve got a tough game against Wellington and hopefully we can play the same way we did tonight and get another win against them.’’

Birighitti’s reputation has grown with each appearance for Newcastle, but he is still waiting for the goalkeeper’s universal statement of a job well done – a clean sheet.

‘‘It’s coming, it’s coming,’’ he said with a smile.

‘‘I thought the goal we gave away [against Western Sydney] was a bit soft, but each time we play we’re getting better and better as a team.’’


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