Darragh Egan cuts a Kipling-eqsue figure in the narrow corridor outside the Wexford dressingroom, urging moderation and explaining the importance of keeping his head when all around were losing theirs.
Of course, getting beaten in the last match by Westmeath after being 16 ahead at half-time will unsettle the hurling public.
For the second year, his team have followed up on an alarming result by beating provincial champions Kilkenny in the next outing – last year to progress to the All-Ireland championship and this time around to avoid dropping out of it altogether for the first time since the 1920s.
“We still need to build further and a big learning for me in my first managerial stint is that you just have to hold your nerve. Lots of people were losing their nerve here over the last few weeks and I felt that the players and the management team held their nerve.
“We stuck to our task and blocked out all the outside noise and I’m just delighted that the boys got their just rewards today.”
In a highly charged atmosphere in Chadwick’s Wexford Park, the teams brought the essence of their hurling: Kilkenny, precision and clinical finishing, striking lethally when not expected, wounds cutting deeply before their infliction is even noticed.
The home side prevailed though with frantic energy, contesting ball and a nourishing supply of goals as well as a heroic display by captain Lee Chin.
“He literally died on every ball that came near him,” says Egan exaggerating – alarmingly – for effect. “He fought and he hurt himself and that’s what leaders and captains do.
“People need to cut him a bit of slack over the last few weeks. He hasn’t been good and he acknowledges that but the man had a Grade Two AC tear about two or three weeks ago and he is only barely coming right for that.
“I would say he will be sore for a week or 10 days now but I’m sure once the Harriers [Chin’s club] get going, he will be back and ready for action. He was immense there.”
No disputing that. In a flawless display of free-taking, including a penalty the captain hit to jump-start the comeback after Kilkenny’s strong start and he contested every ball that came his way.
Reflecting on two years in which his team’s best display has come against Kilkenny – a rivalry that has now trended Wexford’s way with just two defeats in the last seven championship meetings – the manager is philosophical.
“We were six or seven minutes from being in an All-Ireland semi-final last year. We were four minutes from being in the Joe McDonagh next year. If we can strike a chord somewhere in the middle, we will have a big say in how things go over the next few years.
“We have loads of improvements to make, loads of young players to integrate and if we can manage that appropriately it could be huge for us.”
“Well, I don’t know. I don’t make the decisions. Look, I absolutely love hurling. I absolutely love this group. I really think I have something to offer to whatever team I am with but particularly this group of players. We have a good bond. We have built a good bond.”
His Kilkenny counterpart Derek Lyng had a comparatively untroubled landscape coming into the match, as his team had already qualified for the Leinster final where they will face Galway. But the anxiety wasn’t long rearing its head, as Mikey Butler, Martin Keoghan and Adrian Mullen all had to go off within 25 minutes – two of them All Stars.
“Two weeks will leave it tight. I’m not sure of the significance of them all. They all had to go off, they couldn’t play on. Obviously, it’s going to be tight.”
Overall, he was downbeat, having looked well in control of things for most of the first half.
“Hugely disappointing. We were in a strong position at that time. We were hurling really well, I thought, and creating more chances. To be honest, it’s really hard to get your head fully around it.
“Obviously, they were going to come with everything. They had the wind in the first half and picked off a few scores. The penalty obviously brought them back into it and gave them a bit of belief. We got in at half-time after all the hurling one point down and again 10/15 minutes into the second half, we looked like we were out of the game.
“We got back and managed to get ahead. In the first half the injuries didn’t help. Unfortunately for the three lads, it’s unusual for three to be gone in that short space of time. It disrupted the play a bit but still it’s no excuse. We have a really strong panel and we had enough time to sort that out but disappointed. We have to dust ourselves off and focus on two weeks.”