When Gordon Bradley began his wholesale, head-chopping exercise of reorganizing the Washington Diplomats for his first year as coach, his ax went no where near the net.

One of the few bright spots that could evoke a smile from Bradley was in goal, where Eric (Goldfinger) Martin had been a fixture for three seasons as keeper.

"I hadn't seen much of Eric, but with him here, we certainly didn't have any intentions of signing any goalkeepers," Bradley said. "We were very satisfied with Martin and Bobby (Stetler)."

But Bradley's smile turned into a gigantic migraine after Martin suffered a broken leg during an indoor game and was declared out for the season.

"What could I do? Suddenly, we had a big problem," Bradley said. "Bobby probably thought the door was wide open for him to step right in as the No. 1 keeper, and he was working hard at it.

"But I needed another keeper and time wasn't on my side. An if you want to sign someone, you want the very best you can get."

The resourceful, well-known Bradley looked into his "black book of top-flight experienced players" under G (goalies) and appears to have come up with a J (jewel) in Bill Irwin.

"I knew Bill was available so I bought his contract," said Bradley, sounding like a con man who has just pulled off a coup. "He's young (26) and should be around for a while. I have every confidence in him."

Irwin, at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, certainly did nothing to taint Bradley's opinion in Washington's season-opening 3-0 victory over the Philadelphia Fury Saturday.

In posting his first shutout as a Diplomat, Irwin was credited with only four saves, but he kept the Fury off balance with long, booming kicks downfield and played a gambling, aggressive type of defense that shut off many potential Fury shots.

"He comes out to cut off the through balls (passes into the Washinton goal area,) and only the good goalies do that," Bradley said. "Bill is a good organizer, has the good height and the good hands."

Because of the good defensive effort by the back four - Jim Steele, Roy Willner, Tommy O'Hara and Mike Dillon - Irwin wasn't subjected to the kind of defensive test that can rid him of the label of "Martin's replacement."

Irwin, born in Northern Ireland, spent his entire professional career with Cardiff City, a second-division club in England, before joining the Dips.

A superstitious player, Irwin was especially pleased at his "clean sheet" (shutout) in his first North American Soccer League game, but he said the team's best efforts are still ahead.

"We're just getting to know one another. Once that happens, we'll be a much better unit out there," said Irwin, following the first two workouts at RFK Stadium Wednesday. "The game here is basically the same as back home. You just go out and keep the ball out of the net."

Irwin's teammates are new keeper's style, one of reckless abandon.

"He dictates to us. When he calls for the ball, we move," said Dillon, another first-year Washington player. "He can knock me over, clout me as long as he gets the ball. If we don't hear him, we know he's coming because we can hear him breathing or his footsteps."

Irwin, who insists on dressing the same way, warming up at the same pace and going through tseveral other rituals before each game, believes in taking as much presuure as posible off the defenders.

"I like to go up and get the ball. It's easier on the defenders." Irwin said. "I don't have time to worry about someone bumping me or knocking me. If I start to think about that, it'll affect my play. I feel the ball is mine and I go up to get it."

The one player somewhat disappointed at the acquisition is Stetler.

"I'd thought I'd get a shot at the No. 1 spot," said Stetler, who played only 202 minutes behind Martin last year. "I realize I don't have the experience yet, but I know I can play. I'll keep working out and see what happens the next couple of games."

Bradley just feels blessed he has two good keepers and says he won't hesitate to use Stetler.

Irwin will be in goal when Washington opens at home against the Chicago Sting Sunday.

"I'm looking forward to playing here," said Irwin, who has suffered few jujuries during his career. "It's a hard way of life, but it beats working for a living."