‘He has this kind of aura’: How Lee Chin became the man who keeps inspiring Wexford

His hurling wasn’t smooth at first but his commitment to self-improvement has always been total in his rise to Wexford’s talisman

Wexford’s Lee Chin drives between Kilkenny players last month. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

Liam Dunne was Lee Chin’s first manager with the Wexford hurlers, 12 years ago now. At the time Chin was a Wexford footballer, bristling with coltish power. Most of all, he was a blank canvas. Dunne wanted Chin to himself. He arranged a meeting for the Maldron Hotel and in his determined pitch Dunne ignored every proven hustle from Dragon’s Den.

“I told Lee Chin that I was actually a better footballer than he was,” says Dunne. “I told him at least I was able to kick the ball with both feet because I’d never seen him kick the football with any foot. All he ever did was punch it. That was probably a bad start going to a fella who was a Wexford senior footballer and trying to get him to hurl.

“Anyway, I said, ‘Lee, you’re only ever going to be an average footballer but, if you concentrate on it, you could be a fantastic hurler. One of the best. That’s where I hold you.’”

Chin made up his own mind, and for a couple of seasons he pursued the doomed existence of a dual player. In time, the best part of Dunne’s forecast came true.


Two days after Wexford beat Kilkenny in last year’s championship Dunne called him. Defeat in that game would have relegated Wexford from the top tier of the hurling championship for the first time. That prospect and the pressure it wrought were excruciating. More than anybody, Chin held history back.

It’s rare that one man dictates the mood of a county like Lee does

—  Former Wexford manager Darragh Egan on Lee Chin

“As a 16-year-old I watched Tony Doran in Croke Park and I said to myself, ‘I want this,’” says Dunne. “Tony inspired me. I rang Lee and I said, ‘Watching you on Sunday reminded me of why I wanted to hurl for Wexford.’”

The match wasn’t shown on RTÉ or on GAAGo, which made it fertile ground for tall tales. RTÉ, though, shares all its match footage with intercounty teams on Google Drive and on that platform, there is a recording of the game, in full, with just one camera, no captions and no commentary. Stripped back to unvarnished pictures, the only narrative is action.

Wexford’s Lee Chin scores fires over a point against Kilkenny. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho

This is the quantifiable part: Chin scored three points from play and 1-7 from dead balls, without a miss; he forced four turnovers and created 1-3. Against the second-best team in the country, that level of output was staggering. The unquantifiable piece was the energy he imparted to the grid and how many Wexford players plugged in. For nearly 80 minutes Chin was a fireball of physical force and resistance.

“What he did for us that day was just crazy,” says Darragh Egan, Wexford manager last year and the year before. “I have visual images in my mind of Huw Lawlor, Tommy Walsh – two or three Kilkenny lads – just hanging off him. He’s unmarkable at times – actually unmarkable.

“You know what you’re signing up for going down there, but I just couldn’t believe how much of an influence he had over the Wexford people and the Wexford panel. It’s rare that one man dictates the mood of a county like Lee does. That’s the reality.”

Every team has sources of inspiration. On really good teams that responsibility revolves. On this Wexford team it has a fixed point. Egan has gone to many of Wexford’s games this year and says that Chin “is hurling out of his skin”. Not as good as ever: better.

Chin has travelled here from a distance. His hurling wasn’t always smooth and shiny. It’s like those masterful animations from Pixar: you see the magic on the screen, and you don’t think of the long, slow, grafting process, frame by frame. Chin’s appetite for self-improvement was the only constant: everything else was formed by that impulse.

“His natural skill levels were never that high,” says Egan, “and this is from people who worked with him long before I did. But there’s an incredible drive inside him just to become better. I can’t stress that enough. His skill levels are actually improving. Most intercounty players, when they get to 26, 27, 28, they are what they are at that stage. He’s still improving, which is mad for a 31-year-old.”

Egan says that Chin has the keys to Wexford Park for unscheduled practice. On match weekends he knew that Chin would spend at least an hour there, just shooting. Egan had no account of the other solitary hours, although he needed no proof of their existence. In a piece he wrote for The Sports Chronicle a few years ago Chin parted the curtain, just a little.

Clare's Cian Nolan and Lee Chin of Wexford. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

“There is a mindset I seek in games that sometimes comes out when I’m all alone in the field,” he wrote. “I’d convince myself that it’s a packed Croke Park. Every ball matters, so when [a shot] comes off I react like a 60-metre point has sailed over the bar. There’d be fist-pumping and leaping up in celebration, before I snap back to reality, looking around to see if anyone is watching. It’s like a trance.”

Chin grew up in Wolfe Tone Villas, in The Faythe district of Wexford town. His father, Voon For Chin, emigrated from Malaysia to Ireland in the early 1990s and worked as a chef in his aunt’s Chinese restaurant. It was there he met Joanne Black, Chin’s mother.

Faythe Harriers is the local hurling club, Sarsfields is the nearest Gaelic football team and Chin played for them both. On his street boxing was the other passion. More than 30 Irish titles have been won by boxers from Wolfe Tone Villas. Among the champions is Billy Walsh, the renowned Olympic coach.

One of Walsh’s sons played Gaelic football with Chin as a child and Walsh coached the team. Just like Dunne, his eye was drawn to a blank canvas. “I remember I said to Joanne, Lee’s mother, is there any chance of getting him to the boxing club,” says Walsh. “She just said, ‘No way, he’s not boxing.’

“I speak to Lee quite often. I said to him a few years ago, ‘Do you know what, if I could have got you boxing you’d have been a world champion.”

In 2012 Chin appeared on The Late Late Show alongside Jason Sherlock to speak about racial abuse in the GAA. Earlier that season Chin had been abused by two players in a club football match; both received eight-week suspensions. In that interview Chin spoke about the abuse he had experienced in his childhood, in school and on the street. He wondered if anything would change.

In April of last year he was abused by a Tipperary supporter at a challenge match in Carrick-on-Suir, following a flare-up near the sideline. The incident was captured on a phone camera and shared on social media. His abuser was identified and given a 48-week suspension.

Wexford's Lee Chin signs hurls for young fans after the game against Galway in May. Photograph: Leah Scholes/Inpho

The man in question wrote to Chin to apologise and phone conversations followed. More than a year later they remain in contact. “Lee being the man that he is dealt with that in a particular way,” says Egan. “Lee was very good to him. Obviously that man did the wrong thing and he went through a tough time as well. The way Lee is, he still keeps in contact with him. They have a great relationship. I know that for a fact.

“The man apologised, and Lee accepted it. He’s happy that remorse was shown. I know Lee forgave him. It’s a mark of the man the way he handled it.”

Chin will be 32 in October and for the first time in ages he has been free of injury. In 2019 he suffered a rupture to his posterior cruciate ligament and it was recommended that he should undergo a full reconstruction of his knee. The recovery from that surgery, though, was likely to take two years and it could have ended his intercounty career. They discussed the potential long-term consequences of not going under the knife and elected for rehab. Those consequences are unrealised for now.

Over the years Chin has been plagued by hamstring tears. Last year he damaged his shoulder. This season, there have been none of those impediments.

At the end of every intercounty season, in whatever shape he’s in, Chin devotes himself to Faythe Harriers. For many years they have been fighting relegation. For all that time he has been the difference between up and down.

In 2020 they approached the former Waterford manager Derek McGrath to take over the team. Chin was part of a two-man advance party that met him. McGrath stayed for four seasons. “It was him and Sack Walsh – Tony Walsh – an ex-Wexford player,” McGrath recalls. “Sitting there, talking, Lee just had this magnetism. You often see fellas who pretend to be club men but this fella is a real leader when it comes to the club. Lee does everything for the Harriers.

“I run a summer camp here [in De La Salle] every year and we had him down as our guest of honour last year. Never have we had a fella who made such an impact on the kids. Not even what he said, just the way he carried himself. He’s kind of film-starish. It’s hard to explain – he has this kind of aura.”

Wexford will be underdogs against Clare. Have they a chance? It is what Chin gives them.