'He isn't a make or break player for us': Wexford boss reacts to criticism of Lee Chin's All Stars absence after Youths are relegated
Shane Keegan's eyes told the story. It was almost an hour after the full-time whistle in Drogheda last night when he emerged from the Wexford Youths dressing room.
"This is the most horrible feeling in the whole wide world," he sighed.
It was clear that tears had been shed.
He later admitted that it took him 30 minutes to find any words to say to his players about what had just unfolded in a chaotic promotion/relegation playoff, a frantic senseless rollercoaster of a match that ended with a 3-0 win for Drogheda on the night and a 3-2 aggregate success that restores the Boynesiders to the top flight at the expense of Wexford.
In a small interview room, Keegan firstly tried to offer coherent thoughts on a game that defied analysis. Drogheda's winner came from a controversial penalty, but there was more drama when Wexford celebrated a Gary Delaney goal that was duly disallowed.
Keegan agreed with the final decision - a foul on Drogheda keeper Stephen McGuinness - yet felt that match official Graham Kelly changed his mind after initially appearing to point towards the halfway line. Kelly spoke to his linesman before signalling that it was a free out.
That was an odd incident, but Wexford still responded to create chances that should have brought the game to extra-time, including an extraordinary stoppage time incident when sub Shane Dempsey paused over an open goal and released a tame effort that Drogheda hero Kevin Farragher was able to get back and clear.
Wexford players collapsed to the ground at full-time as a joyous pitch invasion erupted around them. Their first crack at the top flight wasn't supposed to end like this and, while the match threw up a number of sliding doors moments that could have taken proceedings in a different direction, Keegan sensed that the post mortem wasn't going to be about missed opportunities or refereeing decisions.
There were two elephants in the room.
Lee Chin's absence was one. Wexford Youths are still in the process of trying to build a proper fanbase, and the short term signing of the hurling star had piqued interest levels in the locality. But the publicity rebounded when Chin scored on Monday to give Wexford a 2-0 first leg win and then announced he would be attending last night's GAA All-Stars instead of the decider.
That move received criticism - a lot of it from outside Wexford - and he was the target for some online grief in the aftermath of Drogheda's stunning comeback.
"Which is the most ridiculous thing ever," said Keegan, interrupting a question on the subject. "It's hard to even take that seriously.
"Chinner wouldn't have started tonight. He started on Monday because Gary Delaney wasn't fit. He'd admit that himself. If everybody is fit and available is he in the first eleven? No. And he knows that. He's not a make or break player for Wexford Youths and I don't intend to be derogatory when I say that.
"He scored a cracking goal the other night and I will be forever thankful to him for coming in and giving me a dig out when I was short on bodies."
After all, Wexford's slide into the relegation mire was accelerated by the loss of five players to football and work opportunities in New Zealand. That's what really hurt them. Keegan cannot get his head around any situation where Chin becomes a scapegoat because the terms of their relationship were always clear.
"How can you not feel sorry for him?," he continued. "Here's a fella who should by all common sense and all right mindedness have told me to take a running jump when I came and asked him would he do me a favour.
"I managed to twist his arm. He's laid his cards 100pc on the table and stated 'If there's an issue with the fact that hurling is my number one, then we may as well not pursue it.'
"I understood that was going to be the situation. Initially, he was going to Asia for the Asian Games this week. If the All-Stars weren't on this week, we wouldn't have had him for either game. That was the initial understanding I brought him in under - if we went to a playoff we wouldn't have him for either game. Then the All-Stars came up.
"At no stage was him being available an option for us. I just think it's mad, the reaction is mad but it's coming from outside - not inside. It's not coming from anyone involved with the club. He played a part in putting us in a very commanding position so for him to ship any of the blame is preposterous."
For Keegan, the other lingering issue which couldn't be avoided was a bigger problem.
On the eve of the match, it emerged that he was Galway's choice to replace Tommy Dunne as manager.
He denies that it's a done deal and says the speculation had no impact on preparations, yet the 34-year-old knows that the leaking of the news has left him open to a backlash.
"There is no way in God's green earth that it played any part in what happened tonight but I may as well be talking to the wall as trying to convince anybody that," said Keegan.
"I haven't signed anything with Galway United. There's interest on both sides which we said we'd look into once the playoffs was over. That's essentially where it's at but it's going to be perceived now the way it's going to be perceived and there's sweet FA I can do about it."
Keegan didn't want to say any more but it's understood that he was due to travel to Galway over the weekend to discuss a contract. But Wexford was on his mind as he mulled over the consequences of a shock reverse.
"It feels at the moment like five years are going to be summed up on 90 minutes and given what I've tried to put in over the last five years, it's just the most horrendous feeling," he said. "I shouldn't be worried about the perception from the outside.
"I think the players appreciate what I put in. I certainly appreciate what the players have put in but it's just the most horrendous feeling in the world considering everything that's gone on in the last 24 hours."