- Soccer. She is quick off the line and has the leap of a basketballer or volleyball honed by playing the games when she joined Kawempe Muslim in 2013 on bursary.
- A scholarship she justified by winning several football trophies including three Fufa Women Elite League titles with between 2014 and 2017.
The aftermath of the Crested Cranes’ exploits at the Cosafa Women Championships in South Africa has been disarmingly routine.Most players returned to school for the promotion term. Or start of the new semester in the case of goalkeeper Ruth Aturo, a Business Administration student at Uganda Christian University (UCU) Mukono.
The welcome at Entebbe International Airport on September 24 was low key and there has been no time to bask in the achievement of finishing third at a highly rated tournament.
Not even for Aturo, who was named best goalkeeper – for a third tournament in a row.
“I am proud of the performance we put up,” the 19 year old says, keen on crediting the whole group – even for her personal awards.
“The future is bright if we keep getting opportunities to prove ourselves against big sides,” Aturo adds.
When Aturo was awarded, it felt like justice had been done. Her match winning performances in the 2-1 Group C triumph over Zimbabwe and the 1-0 win over Zambia in the third place playoff were overlooked. Centre back Shadia Nankya was awarded player of the match on both occasions. “Shadia was immense and deserved even more praise than she got. Overall, everyone gave their all and these awards show we can compete with the best teams in Africa,” Aturo says in her rushed tone.
Her remarkable evolvement in this Crested Cranes sqaud was never straightforward. When Aturo made her full debut in 2016, she conceded four goals against Kenya at the Cecafa Women Championship in Njeru. She ended up conceding 12 times in five games.
The national team stayed inactive till March 2018 when they were summoned for the unsuccessful Africa Women Cup of Nations (AWCON) two-legged qualifiers against Kenya.
They later reconvened in July as a much improved side for the Cecafa 2018 edition in Rwanda, where they finished runners up and earned an invite to Cosafa.
Crested Cranes had to grow into the tournament that started with a bizarre 4-3 win over Swaziland.
“We started well taking a 3-0 lead. But things changed quickly after halftime because of the weather. It was suddenly windy, cold and we had to adapt accordingly,” Aturo recollects.
The bronze shows they adapted well. They held Namibia to a goalless draw and beat southern Africa giants Zimbabwe to top their group. Aturo’s had a commanding presence in both games.
She could not stop eventual champions South Africa but her best display came against Zambia.
The television highlights from that encounter include seven stunning saves from Aturo. Suffice to note that most television highlights would hardly accommodate seven moments, let alone top notch saves from a goalkeeper, from one game.
Given her 13 caps before Cosafa, Aturo was the most experienced player in defence and had to lead with top performances as defensive lynchpin Yudaya Nakayenze had just moved to USA.
“You always need a player like Yudaya but Shadia and Aisha (Namukisa) did what was asked of them. However, when you play against fast and physical opponents, at some point the keeper is going to be exposed. I had to be focused and keep a positive mind to be ready for such moments. I also had one eye on the prize so I kept studying other goalkeepers and that built my confidence game after game,” Aturo shares.
Prior, she was named best custodian at the Cecafa and as UCU won the Fufa Women Cup in June.
“When I watched the South Africa goalkeeper (Christin Kaylin) in the semis and finals, I thought she would be my main challenger. But SA switched keepers in the group stages so my stats were better.” Clearly she is good at keeping attention to detail.
Aturo’s frame ratifies her capabilities too. She is slim and competes favourably with lanky left-back Grace Aluka and Nankya for height. She is quick off the line and has the leap of a basketballer or volleyball honed by playing the games when she joined Kawempe Muslim Secondary School in 2013 on bursary. A scholarship she justified by winning several football trophies including three Fufa Women Elite League (FWEL) titles with between 2014 and 2017.
“Forget my size. I love what I do and think it is a calling because my family is full of goalkeepers,” she argues. Her older brother Steven Egalu and great grandfather Angau also played in goal.
“I think I took after them. My sister (Mary Achibo) plays netball but I have always loved football.”
Her football life, like for most Crested Cranes players, is still at nurturing stage. It spans just seven years and counting.
She only started playing football as a striker in her senior two at Soroti Senior Secondary School in 2011.
“Honestly, I was struggling as a striker but one day the keeper didn’t turn up for a game and I was asked to try out.” The rest is history. The ‘calling’ started under the tutelage of former KCCA and Express goalkeeper Emmanuel Opio but she is still a work in progress.
Her ability to race off her line, for example, has been counterproductive at times. She has conceded some spectacular goals from distance. Four come to mind.
One perfectly executed from the right wing near the centre line by then Olila forward Fazilah Ikwaput in the 2017 Women Cup semis.
Norah Alupo followed suit in a repeat of that tie this year. She also conceded one in the (AWCON) qualifier against Kenya in Machakos and later against Cecafa hosts Rwanda.
“It is not a weakness but sometimes I move forward so defenders can push up. But at times I forget counting the number of steps I take and that makes it hard to race back in such situations.
But I did not concede that kind of goal during Cosafa because I am trying to improve on everything,” the self-critical Aturo says.
“I used to cry when my performances affected the outcome of a game. But I have outgrown that and I will now reflect more on how I play.”
With the new season looming, UCU will hope Aturo’s exposure rubs off the team. They were hugely chastised for failing to win the FWEL title last season after Aturo, Nakayenze and Hasifah Nassuna moved to the tertiary institution from Kawempe.
“We had a poor first round in the league and maybe that was because the team was still gelling. But we have no excuses going into the new season, we must win.”
If the form of the last three months is anything to go by, Aturo’s prediction is one you cannot bet against.