Stephen Baxter has explained the reasons behind taking some time amid the euphoria of victory to speak to fellow managers Paddy McLaughlin and David Jeffrey following dramatic successes for Crusaders over Cliftonville and Ballymena United in the Semi-Finals and Final of the Irish Cup.
Baxter showed a touch of class on both occasions, admitting that he put himself in their shoes when the matches ended.
In the Semi-Final, the Crues won 2-1 against their North Belfast rivals who at the time were also going for Danske Bank Premiership title glory having clinched the League Cup a few weeks before while, in the decider, Jeffrey’s Ballymena were on course for glory until an injury-time leveller from Josh Robinson, which was followed by Johnny McMurray’s decisive strike to clinch the Cup in the last seconds of extra-time.
Given the circumstances, some other managers would have had a quick handshake and rushed to join the celebrations. Not Baxter, who was keen to speak to both McLaughlin and Jeffrey once the final whistle blew.
“I put myself in their shoes,” he explains. “Cliftonville were enjoying a very healthy season and they were chasing down a treble and part of it had just been wrenched away from them.
“In the last 10 minutes of that game, we were ahead and holding on and they were throwing everything including the kitchen sink at us and I could see the deflation of defeat in Paddy’s eyes as his team lost the game. It was important in that moment to speak to him because I have been there and have worn that T-shirt many a time when we have lost in big Semi-Finals and big games over the years.
“I saw how disappointed Paddy was and I wanted to say to him, ‘You have been phenomenal this season and you have to keep driving the team on’ and to give him a few words of my experience around the situation.
“Paddy is a really good fella and a younger manager as well. It was just in the moment and it was not all about the success of my team. You have to have some empathy with the guy on the other side and that’s how it was.”
Turning to Jeffrey and this month’s Cup Final, Baxter speaks with great respect for his one-time Linfield team-mate and close friend whom he has battled with from the dugout for 17 years.
On their emotional embrace after a frantic finish to the Cup Final, Baxter says: “With David there is a lifetime friendship.
“Ahead of the Final, we had a week’s build up to it doing press stuff and sit-down conversations with everybody talking around the game and when the final whistle went, David and I were always going to embrace each other regardless of the result.
“For us, it was never going to be a case of walking over, shaking hands and walking away. I had thought very clearly whatever way that match was going to end about what way I would handle myself.
“I was either going to have to lift Davy or he was going to lift me. We have known each other for so long and it was a very special moment between him and I.”