A FORMER Barnsley FC player who now runs a goalkeeping academy has set off on his bike to raise money for Barnsley Hospice.

Paul Heritage, who coaches the next generation of ‘keepers with Just4Keepers, has pledged to cycle 260 miles across two weeks in support of the hospice, which last month launched an urgent public appeal for support.

The challenge started as a way for Paul to keep in touch with his students, but when he found out about the hospice’s ‘2.6 challenge’ he saw an opportunity to do so while raising money for the vital service.

“In the first weeks of lockdown, I was providing content for my goalkeeper coaching business and trying to keep the students going,” said Paul, 41, who runs sessions in Barnsley and Oxspring and is also head of goalkeeper development for Barnsley’s shadow scholarship programme.

“I saw the 2.6 challenge, and thought it was something else I can do to set the students a challenge as well as occupy myself.

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“I’ve got them doing 2.6 mile runs a day, 26 press-ups a day, things like that.

“What I do for a living is about achieving a goal but making it fun and enjoying it.

“With this, you’ve also got the bigger picture of raising funds and keeping a fantastic charity going.

‘I imagine the coming months are the time they really get out and raise those much-needed funds.”

Paul, of Wentworth Court, Penistone, is a former England youth international who had spells at Sheffield United, Barnsley and Carlisle United before his playing career was cut short by injury.

In ten years as a coach with the group, part of a national franchise, he estimates he’s coached more than 1,000 players who have played for several clubs including Barnsley, Leeds, Rotherham, Doncaster and Bradford City.

With the group, Paul raised more than £1,500 for Barnsley Hospice before Christmas - and he said he’ll keep ‘pushing it’ to continue supporting the charity while the lockdown continues.