Barnsley FC: Robbie Cundy’s route to Oakwell came ‘the hard way’

AT his press unveiling, Michael Duff spoke about wanting to see his Barnsley players come to work with a ‘smile on their faces’ every day and realise they are doing ‘the best job in the world’.

The Reds head coach will have no worries on that score with new signing Robbie Cundy.

Cundy’s football journey has been a long and bumpy one.

Like his manager, he is a centre-half. Like his manager, he has also had to fight for everything he has got after earning his stripes on the non-league circuit before his big break at Bristol City – Duff made his breakthrough just up the M5 at Cheltenham.

Robbie Cundy signs for Barnsley FC on a two-year deal. Picture: Courtesy of Barnsley FC

Cundy’s story started at Oxford United after his release from Aston Villa’s youth set-up. In his time at the U’s, he was loaned to Daventry, Chesham, Gloucester City, Oxford City and Southport.

After being released by Oxford, he picked himself up back at Gloucester before moving to Bath City where he won a stack of personal awards, with Duff – with an understandably strong knowledge of the West Country non-league scene – starting to monitor his progress before he got his big move to Bristol in 2019.

His time at Ashton Gate has also seen him farmed out on loan several times as well. Injury has also been an additional factor to contend with for spells.

Many would bemoan their lot, but not Cundy, a likeable and self-effacing Oxfordshire lad who is still living the dream at 25. He has seen the other side and did not particularly like it.

Robbie Cundy signs for Barnsley FC on a two-year deal. Picture: Courtesy of Barnsley FC

He told The Yorkshire Post: “I have come up through the leagues and done it the hard way. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.

“It’s made me the player I am today. I have had a few good and bad experiences and I’ve come up the hard way.

“When I was in non-league (after leaving Oxford and before joining Bristol City), I worked in a gym local to where I lived as a fitness instructor.

“It was mainly just cleaning the gym up and I hated it and didn’t enjoy it. It gave me the drive to push on in football and get me back into the professional game. I know what it is like having a normal job and I didn’t enjoy it..

“As a part-time footballer, I’d be in the gym working. I’d work on a few Sundays after games and that was probably the worst. But it got me where I am today.”

Cundy had to wait over two-and-a-half years to make his Robins debut and his mental fortitude was also tested during a loan spell at Gillingham in 2021 when he suffered a bad knee injury.

But maybe, just maybe, things are starting to turn in a positive direction for him at long last.

A day after his grandma passed away, Cundy make his full City debut at Blackburn in March, with family and friends in attendance.

He went onto make nine other starts before season’s end. His form was such that City tabled him fresh terms, but with the club still boasting a host of central defensive options, Cundy has elected to move on in pursuit of extended game time.

He added: “Hopefully, my issues are over. That injury (at Gillingham) was the biggest I’ve had.

“I was out for about eight months and that was tough. It was healing slower than you would have thought as well and I had to be a bit more patient with that. I got fit and have had no issues since and that’s the main thing. That I keep nice and strong.

“I enjoyed those 10 games (at Bristol). Now I’m looking forward to getting started at Barnsley.”

A strapping lad, who is down to earth and humble, it should surprise few that Cundy sees himself in football terms, first things first, as a no-frills, proper defender – and one who enjoys his craft.

“I think it goes under the radar a little bit. I am not sure it is in fashion,” he continued.

“I enjoy defending and if we can defend properly and keep clean sheets, I have got a better chance of winning a game. I am sure the other defenders here will be like that as well.”

In his latter time at City under Nigel Pearson, a defensive leader of some standing in his time at Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough, Cundy had the perfect manager to learn from.

Having the chance to continue his education under Duff, a defender who served two clubs in Burnley and Cheltenham with distinction, is another boon.

Cundy said: “I learned a lot at Bristol. I struggled a little bit at the start of the season with injury, but when I played, I’d say I learned a lot from Nigel and he was a good manager around the place. I enjoyed it, but just a shame I didn’t get as many minutes as I wanted.

“I think it is the perfect thing for a player – to sign for a club and know the manager (Duff) likes you already. Obviously, I have got to prove it to him in pre-season that I can do what he wants.

“But it was definitely a bonus for him to come here as well and to be playing under him, for sure.”