MICHAEL Duff says he never doubted whether moving from Cheltenham Town to Barnsley last summer was the right decision despite ‘chaos’ in the early part of the season.
The head coach moved to Oakwell from his local club, with his family staying in Gloucestershire, and took over a side that had finished last in the Championship and would sell several star players with limited money to replace them.
He has earned praise for uniting the team and fans again, heading into Monday’s League One play-off final with Sheffield Wednesday.
Asked if he ever questioned if it was the right move, Duff told the Chronicle: “No, because I back myself no matter what. I didn’t win a game for ten games at Cheltenham and I didn’t doubt myself. I just learned a lot. I am a bit older, wiser, greyer and a lot fatter than back then.
“I never said anything about where we would finish this season. I know I work hard and I believe in what I do. Now we are in a shoot-out to get promoted.
“But talk is cheap. You can talk about philosophies but can you get a group to work hard and stick together?
“That’s what we have done this season and proved to be good at it.”
Duff said at the start of the season that the players had set an internal target.
“You get them to set a target, but how much they believe it I don’t know.
“Sometimes they pay lip service.
“I didn’t know the players at that point. Most of them did say promotion but they might have been led by questions in the media. We started working with them and breaking it down.
“The target for the first ten games was 16 points because generally 1.6 points a game gets you in the play-offs – I don’t know if it would have done this year. But that was how we tried to break it down rather than ‘let’s get in the play-offs’.
“We need day to day and week to week habits. Now they do believe and it is: can they have that belief one more time?”
Duff played at the old Wembley with Cheltenham in the FA Trophy final in 1998 and the new stadium with Burnley in the 2009 Championship play-off final, winning both. He said: “The first one, I was only 20 and didn’t really take it in.
“I am probably one of the lucky ones who managed to win at the old Wembley and the new Wembley.
“The next one, I was 31. I remember it was baking hot and full. We played Sheffield United that day, ironically.
“From a personal point of view, hopefully I can do a double over the Sheffield clubs. It wasn’t a great game but it’s the build-up, the walking out – it is special.
“There were big fire things next to where we walked out and they were a bit too close, I think they have stopped doing it now.
“I have big eyebrows but I don’t think I had many eyebrows after that.
“I got drugs tested after the game so I missed a lot of celebrations which was slightly annoying but the party afterwards was worth it.
“I have told the players to go and enjoy it and express themselves which is the hard bit. I am not sure my previous experience really counts for anything because it was as a player.”
Duff has expressed pride at Barnsley’s achievements this season but is putting that to one side until after the final.
“There is no point thinking ‘if we lose it’s been a good season.’ It’s a shoot-out now. We will focus on the game and take stock at the end of the season.
“Planning for next season has already started whether we win or lose.
“We don’t want to take our eyes off the prize. It’s been a positive season but we can really cap it off.”