BARNSLEY midfielder Luca Connell is hoping to right the wrongs of last season and has automatic promotion in his sights - but he’s hoping the Reds won’t have to go through a third successive play-off heartbreak.

The 23-year-old Irish playmaker has featured in both of the club’s last two play-off campaigns - first losing against Sheffield Wednesday in the final at Wembley in 2023 and then to his former club Bolton in the semi-finals in May.

He admits that the Reds left themselves with too much to do in the second leg after a 3-1 loss at Oakwell which included a sloppy penalty being given away and a 94th-minute Randell Williams strike directly from a corner.

He told the Chronicle: “The way we went out, we went out fighting and I think that’s all you can ask for.

“The first leg we kicked ourselves.

“We gave ourselves too much to do by giving away cheap goals.

“We’ve just got to learn from that for this season.”

Connell’s adamant the Reds won’t go through yet another play-off heartbreak - and this year he hopes they’ll go one better.

“Hopefully we’ll get automatics but we’ve just got to make sure that we pack those silly mistakes in and move on,” he said.

“Some people would probably take play-offs but ideally we’d want to be in the automatic promotion places.

“Play-offs is a back-up option but we just need to focus, make sure we can get fit again and hopefully the results will go our way.”

Barnsley announced Darrell Clarke as their new head coach last month, with former Reds captain Conor Hourihane joining as a player/coach a few weeks later. Connell said he’s excited to work alongside the new duo.

He added: “I met the new manager for the first time today (Tuesday).

“I don’t know any tactics or anything like that but he seems like a real good man-manager.

“All the things he was saying were good to hear so I’m looking forward to working under him.

“I think it’s a great addition to the team (Hourihane joining).

“He’s an unbelievable player and the career he’s had is unbelievable.

“If you could bite someone’s hand off for half the career he’s had, you would.

“He’s played in the Premier League so it’ll be good to have him around the team. You can learn a lot of things off of him, especially myself.”

Connell was kept out of action for 158 days last season due to illness but made a recovery to feature in Barnsley’s 3-0 FA Cup replay win against seventh-tier Horsham in November - though this game was later chalked off due to the Reds fielding an ineligible player.

It means this will be his first full pre-season in two years - and he’s making the most of it.

“For the first couple of weeks I got away on holiday and got my legs up to rest,” he said.

“I got some sun and now I’m straight back to it. I’ve been training - running on my own and doing some football sessions.

“Then it’ll be a couple of days at Barnsley and getting back into it.

“I’m all good now.

“I’ve just got to make sure I’m feeling good coming back into it and hopefully there’s no setbacks for me before the season starts.”

The Reds are due to return to pre-season training in just over a week on July 1.

There’ll undoubtedly be a new look to the Barnsley side this season after the club released their four top appearance makers from last season in Jordan Williams, Herbie Kane, Devante Cole and Nicky Cadden.

As of yesterday, only Williams had signed for a new club, after being unveiled as a Portsmouth player earlier this week.

Did Connell expect such an exodus of players at the end of the season?

“It’s football,” he said.

“We knew it was going to happen and we’re prepared for it.

“I’m sure the club will be bringing in a lot of players and the recruitment team will be working with the gaffer to get the players he needs to play the way he wants.

“Hopefully if we can do that then we’ll be successful.”

Connell was a special guest at boxer Callum Simpson’s pre-fight press event at the Garrison on Tuesday - and he’s excited to see a different type of battle on the Oakwell pitch on August 3.

He added: “I’ve been to watch Callum a few times and I don’t think there’s no doubt about the result.

“We’re all looking forward to seeing the performance.

“One thing will stay the same - all the fans will be there and be loud.

“This time they’ll be backing Callum instead of the team and I’m sure plenty of the team will be there as well.

“I’m looking forward to it and I think it’ll be a good fight.”

Who does he think would be the best boxer in the squad?

He said: “It’s a tough one now to be honest. From last year it was definitely Liam Kitching.

“We’ve got the gloves on a couple of times but it hasn’t ended too well.”