By Doug O’Kane
HEROES from Barnsley’s last play-off meeting with Swansea City believe the Reds can win again with a much bigger prize on offer in the upcoming Championship semi-finals.
The Reds beat the Swans on penalties after a 2-2 draw in Cardiff in the 2006 League One play-off final.
Antony Kay, who is from Darfield and now plays part-time for Welsh club Bala Town while running a coaching academy, took one of the penalties.
He told the Chronicle: “All the other clubs in the play-offs are miles bigger than Barnsley, in terms of budgets. But, on form, you would have to back Barnsley to go all the way.
“Young players have no fear so they will go into it full on confidence.
“What they have done has been unbelievable and incredible.
“They have a young hungry team with high confidence. Speaking to a few people, Barnsley are the club no one wants to play in the play-offs.
“In the 90s when they were last pushing for the top flight, Barnsley were one of the better teams in the second tier but now they have come from nowhere.
“It must be the mentality that this manager has brought in. Barnsley is a small town but football is massive there. What it would bring to the town and all the businesses around it would be fantastic.”
Chris Shuker, who played 114 games for the Reds, also netted in the shoot-out.
He said: “They have done fantastic this season. The money in the Championship is huge but they have a great opportunity to get in the Premier League.
“I hope the players can experience what we did in 2006, but obviously at a higher level, because going up in the play-offs is the best way to do it.
“You only remember the seasons when you go up or go down and fortunately I never got relegated. That final is one of my favourite memories and I’ll never forget it. We beat Swansea in their backyard.
“As soon as the final whistle went, I picked my spot in the goal as I was running over to Andy Ritchie and I told him I was taking a penalty. I don’t get nervous but I was very nervous taking that penalty. I just knew that everyone would ask me about it for the rest of my life and I wanted to say that I scored it.
“That was a last kick for the club and it was a good way to sign off. I loved my time at Barnsley.”
Brian Howard, now an agent for players such as ex-Red Jacob Brown and current Barnsley youngster Charlie Winfield, was one of the Reds’ star men at the time.
He said: “I came off injured for the free-kick which Nards (Daniel Nardiello) scored from.
“I had to watch the penalties from the side which was very tough.
“But we won and they are incredible memories and fantastic times, which really kicked my career to the next level.
“If they go up this time, it will eclipse it by a long way and even eclipse the last Barnsley team to get to the Premier League because of where they were last season. I was commentating on the game at Brentford last season when Clarke Oduor scored the last-minute goal to stay up. I thought they would stay up easily this season but by no means did I expect them to clinch a play-off place.
“It’s a great achievement.
“When I was at Barnsley, the goal was always to stay in the Championship which was always an achievement considering the budget and size of club.
“Barnsley are probably the team everyone fears in the play-offs. They have no pressure. The other three are expected to go up and they will all want to avoid Barnsley who play with no fear.
“The way the manager sets his team up, it will probably be the toughest game for anyone in those play-offs.”
Kay, who played 197 games for Barnsley, netted the fourth penalty between the misses by Adebayo Akinfenwa and Alan Tate.
“To get promoted with your hometown club with all your friends and family watching, it is a one-off and very special.
“Swansea were the better team but the courage and battle-hardened mentality we had was second to none.
“I took our last penalty. I had never been a penalty-taker but I just felt good so I said I would take one. When I walked up to take it in front of 55,000 people, I was nervous and my mouth was dry.
“But, when you’re that tired after 120 minutes, you don’t think that much.
“When I scored, I was just so relieved more than celebrating.
“I knew we would win then because Stephen McPhail was not going to miss the last one but Nick Colgan saved their fourth penalty anyway.
“I always want to take the fourth penalty in any shoot-out now.”
Kay, 38, played with Barnsley’s current wing-backs Callum Styles at Bury and was at MK Dons when Callum Brittain was in the youth team.
“Stylesy was a very good player but the question was whether he could do it, phsyically, at a higher level.
“It surprised me to see him playing at left wing-back but he’s doing really well.
“Callum Brittain looked good in the MK youth team but you never knew how good he will be in men’s football until he had the chance. The energy he brings to the team is brilliant.”
Shuker left the club that summer after failing to agree a new contract.
“I had played every game that season and I’d been involved in 86 games in a row. I had a contract issue with Gordon Shepherd and there was a fall-out between the two legs of the semi-final.
“I was left out for the second leg in Huddersfield. It was put out as if I was not being fair, but I wanted to stay.
“I didn’t play well in the first leg but I thought I had done enough over 86 games to stay in the team. It was a sore one.
“But I came off the bench in the final and scored a penalty.”