Barnsley FC: Duff and Devaney looking to bring good times back to Oakwell

TESTAMENT to the happy times that Martin Devaney and Michael Duff experienced at Cheltenham Town in the late Nineties and early Noughties arrives in the fact that they and their former team-mates still keep in touch via their own WhatsApp group.

A couple of decades on and Devaney and Duff now find themselves side by side in the dug-out as opposed to the pitch in the red of Barnsley and if their time together in Yorkshire is anywhere near as memorable as those special days in Gloucestershire, then no-one will be complaining.

Reds head coach Duff and Devaney, named as first-team coach last week, were part of a Cheltenham story which saw the club climb from the Southern League to the third tier between 1997 and 2002 and secure a Wembley FA Trophy triumph and appearance in the last 16 of the FA Cup .

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Alongside those successes on the pitch under the command of Steve Cotterill – now manager of Shrewsbury Town – life-long friendships were forged in a dressing room full of driven, humble, hard-working professionals not without talent.

Barnsley first-team coach Martin Devaney.   Picture Bruce RollinsonBarnsley first-team coach Martin Devaney.   Picture Bruce Rollinson
Barnsley first-team coach Martin Devaney. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Those who were part of the journey included former Hull City and Doncaster Rovers manager Grant McCann and Cheltenham stalwart Russell Milton, assistant manager at the club. Mark Yates was another to successfully move into league management.

Devaney told The Yorkshire Post: “We do all keep in touch. I speak to Grant at Peterborough, so I am looking forward to playing them in the new season.

“There’s a few of the boys who are still involved in football and we have got a WhatsApp group and it was quite interesting and they were pestering me about a meet-up in September.

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“Although I don’t know if that will happen. But in any walk of life, you meet new people and I have been very lucky to have met really good lads at Barnsley and Cheltenham.

“At a club like Cheltenham, we did not have much in League Two and we were always one of the smallest clubs with the smallest budgets and the players weren’t earning that much.

“Under Steve Cotterill, you had to become a team player very, very quickly. You couldn’t moan about the pitch and not being enough grass on it or anything. There were no excuses at the club.

“You had to give 100 per cent and if you weren’t, someone would replace you. He always created good characters and good team spirit and ultimately, that is what gets you success.

“That hard work ethic has been embedded into me.”

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Early on in his Reds tenure it may be, but it is crystal clear that Duff, like Cotterill, has no time for egos.

Duff’s nickname as a player at Cheltenham was ‘Son of’ – in homage to his similarity in terms of character to Cotterill, a manager and individual who has always known what he wants and has never been one to suffer fools.

It will have surprised no-one at Cheltenham that Cotterill was the person who eventually lured Duff away from Cheltenham to Burnley in his playing career.

At his unveiling as head coach at Oakwell, Duff spoke about respect, hard work, humility and enthusiasm being among his core beliefs and non-negotiables that guide his life.

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They are values shared by Devaney, who has maintained his friendship with Duff over the years since both left Cheltenham in their playing days, with their families also remaining close.

He added: “”Our journeys are quite similar. He stayed at Burnley and I stayed at Barnsley. We are loyal people with good morals and good families behind us.

“It is not always about football sometimes, but the dressing room. It is trying to teach those lads – even if they are senior players – about having to be a good person with good morals and being hard-working and leaving your egos.

“You leave your ego wherever you want to, but when you come in here, you come in here to play for the shirt and club and understand how proud fans are of this club.”

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