As he addresses the assembled media over a Zoom call, Declan McManus looks admirably bright and breezy for a man who became a father for the third time less than a month ago.
“With every pound he puts on, it seems he likes to sleep a wee bit longer — hopefully he keeps that up,” laughs the Dunfermline Athletic striker.
He can afford to smile now and, for that, he is incredibly grateful. Baby Rafferty, a first son for McManus and his partner Jennifer, was born premature last month and required close care from doctors for several days following his arrival.
As McManus tweeted at the time: ‘You’re a little fighter.”
Remarkably, Dunfermline’s No.10 declared himself ready to play in the 0-0 draw against Dundee on April 13, the day after ‘Raffa’ was born, completing the 90 minutes and turning in a tireless showing behind Craig Wighton and Kevin O’Hara.
“He’s doing really well,” continued the former Aberdeen and Ross County front-man. “He was really ill when he was born and spent about 10 days in hospital. But he’s home now and gaining weight.
“The Dundee game at home was the day after he was born. He was just 24 hours old when I played that game.
“But, for me, sometimes when things in life are tough, football is my escape.
“When I go on the pitch, I can forget about the tough times and just go on and play the game I love playing.”
And how he would love to bring home a Premiership playoff winners’ medal for Raffa and his big sisters, Isabella and Valentina.
“I’m all for putting every bit of energy and might I’ve got left in me to achieve that, said McManus.
“For a club of this size and stature, it deserves to be in the Premiership.
“Dunfermline has had its tough times and the fans have been there and stuck by it. To be part of the team that got them promoted would be a massive achievement and something I would definitely hold forever.
“It’s all about five games that could possibly make you a hero.”
McManus is no stranger to this stage of proceedings with Dunfermline. Indeed, he recounts the finale to the Pars’ 2017/18 campaign with a visible grimace. He remains convinced that was a glorious opportunity to at least reach the playoff final.
That season saw the Fifers lose 2-1 on aggregate to a decidedly ordinary Dundee United side, who would go on to be eliminated by a Livingston team against whom Dunfermline were unbeaten.
The Lions then went on to defeat Partick Thistle to go up — one of only two teams to win promotion to the Premiership through the playoff system since its inception in 2013/14 (Hamilton are the other).
“I felt we really harshly went out and it hurt a lot,” he recalled. “It hurt me personally because, although I scored at Tannadice [2-1 defeat], I missed a really gilt-edged chance.
“That was really tough to take because I thought we were by far the better team over two legs. We created numerous chances and just didn’t take them, or do enough to keep United out in the second leg.
“So, we were left with a feeling of ‘we don’t deserve to be out’. That’s really hard to take. We were the only team that season that Livingston didn’t beat — so we would have really fancied ourselves.
“It is all ifs, buts and maybes. However, it makes me more determined to make it all the way to the final.
“I want to make sure we are going at least one step further — and all the way, if possible, this time.”
Before that, however, Dunfermline must see off Raith Rovers at Stark’s Park on Saturday, with the tie tantalisingly balanced at 0-0 following Tuesday’s first leg.
A humbling 5-1 defeat in March remains fresh in the minds of many, but is not occupying the thoughts of McManus any more than the Pars’ 4-1 win over Raith the previous month or the 2-2 draw between the sides in December.
“It was a really bad night all round and more than one thing went wrong,” McManus said of Dunfermline’s heaviest Fife derby defeat since 1983. “When that happens and you are playing a good team, they are going to beat you — and beat you comfortably.
“Although they played well, I think we gave them the platform to beat us like they did. A lot of that was down to our own performance; not being at it, and getting it wrong on the night.
“Everyone saw on Tuesday that we were a lot more organised, harder to break down and, when we got the ball, created three or four really good chances.
“The only negative for us what that we never took any of those chances but it was a positive performance and we can take a lot from that going into Saturday — and we have every confidence in ourselves.”