BEFORE the morning after came the night before. And what a wonderful, joyous night it was for Barnsley.
The news that Lee Johnson, just 12 hours after leading the Reds to Wembley, was contemplating a move away from Oakwell may well have hit supporters like the ultimate hangover.
But, even allowing for the potential disruption the 34-year-old’s departure for Bristol City could cause, it could not detract from the memory of the previous night’s celebrations on the Fylde coast.
Adam Hammill’s decisive penalty in the shoot-out sparked an almighty knees-up among the 1,300 travelling fans inside Fleetwood Town’s Highbury home and, no doubt, similar scenes were played out in the pubs and clubs of the South Yorkshire town.
Reaching Wembley is a big deal, no matter what the competition, so the celebrations were well deserved and the scorer of that all-important spot-kick admits he is unlikely to ever forget them.
“We were all elated as a group at the end,” said the 28-year-old Liverpudlian, who returned to Oakwell in November following his release by Huddersfield Town.
“I thought we had the better of it over the two legs but, obviously, it went to penalties.
“It was a great feeling when we had won. All the lads were delighted. Personally, I have never played at Wembley. I have been as a fan, unfortunately to see Liverpool get beat.
“One of them was against Aston Villa, but I have been to quite a few now. We won all the finals at the Millennium in Cardiff but, since getting back to Wembley, it has changed.
“This time, I want to be on the winning team.”
April 3 is the date when Barnsley will take on Oxford United in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final and thousands of fans are expected to converge on the capital.
For Hammill, walking out at the national stadium will be further vindication of his decision to step down a division when offered the chance to rejoin the Oakwell club.
His return came at a difficult time for both the Reds and manager Johnson, who last night was still in talks with his former club over a possible switch to Ashton Gate.
Not only had Barnsley lost seven league games in a row but, in the match before Hammill made a scoring debut against York City, Altrincham had dumped the Yorkshire club out of the FA Cup.
“The move has revitalised me,” added the winger, who in 2012 pleaded guilty to a charge of assault in his home city and was given a 12-week jail sentence, suspended for two years.
“It has got me enjoying my football again. I wasn’t playing and you can take that one of two ways. Sometimes, I didn’t take it too well.
“But I have done a lot of work off the pitch. I have seen a sports psychologist off my own back, just to get myself in the right frame of mind. It has paid dividends.
“This time around, I have let my football do the talking, nothing else. The perception of me, people can think what they want. But if you speak to the staff or every single one of the lads, they will tell you I am just a down-to-earth lad.
“The biggest thing for me is having a family now, as I want to make them proud. Everything I do is for them. My little girl Isabelle is one year old and then we are expecting another baby in the summer.
“My partner has already said, ‘You are getting Isabelle to Wembley, but you have to get the new baby there, too’. So no pressure.”
Barnsley’s first trip to Wembley since losing to Cardiff City in the 2008 FA Cup semi-final came after two pulsating ties had failed to separate Johnson’s men and Fleetwood.
It meant penalties and, for Hammill, the potentially crucial role of taking the fifth spot-kick.
“I was relaxed – honest,” laughed the winger when asked what it was like to step up at 3-2 and knowing a successful penalty would be enough to clinch that Wembley date.
If Hammill was suffering from nerves in the blustery conditions, he hid it well, even if his penalty did crash against the underside of the crossbar before bouncing down over the line.
“For me,” he added, “it was a fairytale scenario. Coming back to Barnsley and getting the winner to take us to Wembley, what a great feeling. Even if, after it seemed to hit the bar for a third time, I think our fans had to blow it over the line.”
Hammill’s starring role at Fleetwood was made all the more remarkable by the winger initially being expected to miss the tie through an injury sustained on January 23 in the 6-1 rout of Rochdale.
“I was meant to be out for a month, but nothing was going to stop me from playing,” he said. “I did the rehab and I worked hard on the exercises.
“I was in every single day and I did say to the gaffer, ‘If you think in your head you are injured then you will be injured’.
“Since I’d been out, I didn’t see it as an injury. Just a little rest. By the end of the game, I was a bit tired, but having that right mentality paid dividends. A never say die attitude meant it was destined to happen like that.
“Aidy White was in a similar position. We were both scared we were going to lose our places. That is why we pushed ourselves.
“This is a close-knit bunch of lads. It is a young dressing room, but they are all top-class people and nothing was going to stop me playing at Fleetwood because I was so desperate to get to Wembley.
“It is a dream come true and I am delighted for the fans, all my team-mates and the staff.
“Now, though, we can’t let it pass us by. We might only get one chance to play at Wembley and we have to leave everything on the pitch. We have to do ourselves, our families and the club proud.”