Callum Irving reflects on 2020 season, ‘keeper battle at Pacific: ‘I’m proud of the year I had’

Callum Irving’s body of work in a Pacific FC kit is short, but sweet.

He played six games, won three of them, and made 22 saves during the recent Island Games in PEI. Irving made a few outstanding saves along the way, as well. Ultimately, his brief campaign was good enough to earn a nomination for the CPL’s Golden Glove award, which goes to the league’s top goalkeeper

Looking back that The Island Games, the 27-year-old native of Vancouver is a little unsatisfied after his club’s deep run into the second round.

“I don’t think I’ve ever played a season that short, not even in college” Irving told “It’s definitely tough to come back to reality and have it cut short so quick, you start to get into the rhythm of playing and the competition again.”

The main reason Irving only played six of Pacific’s 10 games in PEI was that the club has the luxury of having two strong ‘keepers. Nolan Wirth won the starting job for himself in 2019, and Irving — a USL veteran with a Canadian national team cap — came in this past off-season to compete against him.

Although Wirth started the first three games in Charlottetown (plus the last one, when the Tridents were already eliminated), it was ultimately Irving who had the upper hand in the goalkeeping battle. He stepped in against Valour FC and earned a clean sheet (saving a penalty kick at the end as well), and he never looked back.

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The two goalkeepers get along well, though, and they knew they’d be competing ever since Irving signed in early 2020.

“We were battling in training all the time, and I think that’s what you want,” Irving said of his competition with Wirth. “With (coach Pa-Modou Kah) I don’t think there’s ever gonna be an 11 that’s been picked, cemented in at any point. You have to earn it every week, every game. For me I’m happy overall with my contribution personally but I don’t take it as me winning a battle.

“If I’m back next year, it’ll be another battle in pre-season to try and earn my spot and my minutes. It was enjoyable and I’m looking forward to more of it.”

The brief 2020 season was ultimately a net positive for Irving and Pacific FC, having improved their fortunes significantly from a disappointing 2019. The experience in the CPL’s Charlottetown bubble was a challenging one, he admitted, but it’s not one he’ll soon forget.

“That was a lot of time spent in a confined area with the same people,” Irving said. “I think anyone can attest to the fact that that’s never an easy thing to do, whether it’s family, friends, being in that close proximity. When there’s the stresses of competition on top of that it can be difficult, but I have to say, and I give credit to all my teammates, we were together throughout, from the beginning to the end.

“It was a lot of fun to be around the guys and the coaching staff, medical staff, our team manager. Everybody that was there was in the Pacific group. They did their best to create a positive, fun environment and so yeah, it was a nice group to be a part of.”

Looking back on the whole year, Irving feels pretty lucky to have chosen to return to his native British Columbia for 2020, after spending three years with the Ottawa Fury. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he was already close to his family in Vancouver, making the year a little easier to handle.

“I don’t know there was a better place I could’ve been during 2020 than on the west coast with this team and close to my family,” he said. “It definitely made 2020 a lot more manageable than it could’ve been. … I don’t have a single regret about coming to Pacific at all, I’m proud of the year I had.”

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