IT is not only Oli McBurnie’s goals that will ensure he will always be remembered fondly at Oakwell.
On the afternoon when the hugely likeable loan striker will bid his farewells to the Barnsley faithful – and wear the red jersey on home soil for the final time – the sense of gratitude will run deep.
It will be the cherished hope of many that the impressive young Yorkshireman can provide one final telling and magical contribution at Oakwell to help ensure that his parting gift can, somehow, lead to Championship safety – and is the precursor to final-day salvation at Derby County in eight days.
But whether he does provide it or not McBurnie can rest assured he has already given plenty in his short, but sweet time with the club.
More is the pity his spell was not for longer – but that is another story.
The word talisman tends to be overused in sport. But the 21-year-old has very much embodied that esteemed quality since arriving at the end of the winter window from Swansea for the remainder of 2017-18.
The fans have been unbelievable since I came in and took right to me straight away. I think scoring a few goals helped.Ollie McBurnie
It is no mean feat to provide hope and inspiration to a survival quest where there was practically none and for Barnsley to still be in with a half-chance of staying up owes plenty to him.
The Leeds-born striker provided the kiss of footballing life to Barnsley’s ailing season – right from the moment he immediately ingratiated himself by scoring a wonderful solo goal against Sheffield Wednesday. And so the love-in began.
A total of eight goals since his bow on February 10 represents a resounding statistical input for a side in the bottom three whose goals for tally is the third-worst in the division.
But it is McBurnie’s rich character, self-effacing nature, spirit and earnestness that will also add to his positive legacy.
Anyone who listened to his pre-match utterances ahead of today’s huge game would have soon accepted that this was no passing-through loanee going through the motions and trotting out hackneyed clichés before returning, relatively unscathed, to his parent club.
His words were delivered from the heart and the pain of relegation would be felt keenly, disregarding his loan status.
Barnsley and their supporters will now plainly always be a part of him, whatever happens.
McBurnie said: “The fans have been unbelievable since I came in and took right to me straight away. I think scoring a few goals helped.
“They have been brilliant and I want to repay them as much as I can with a good final performance on Saturday.
“Hopefully we get the three points and give them something to shout about.
“All the clubs I have been loaned to and particularly had successful loan spells at, such as Chester, I will always be grateful for. They were the first club who gave me a chance and I will always be grateful to Chester and keep my eye out on their results and keep up with the boys.
“They and Barnsley will always be in my heart for giving me the chance to play football when not many would have done.”
On his desire to avoid relegation, he added: “It is not so much (not wanting it on) the CV, but the pride of it. No one wants to go down. I will 100 per cent take it personally if we go down. But it could be one of the best things ever if we stay up. I have believed since the day I came in that we would be safe and I still believe that now. We have obviously made it very difficult for ourselves and we seem to like doing that.”
Should Barnsley go down, the main ‘if only’ will revolve around McBurnie too, given that his initial loan move to Oakwell fell through on September 1 due to paperwork issues.
Admirably, the ex-Bradford City striker’s immediate reaction was good-humoured – and quickly endeared himself to Reds fans without kicking a ball.
On the news that his move had collapsed after training with his new colleagues, he tweeted on social media: ‘Can’t believe it. Didn’t think I was that bad in training today.’
It was a lighthearted moment in a tough situation and while McBurnie acknowledges what might have been had he arrived earlier, he admits that sometimes hindsight is a wonderful thing.
He added: “Of course, it is frustrating. You always hear ‘what could have been’. But you never know, I might have come in August and might not have scored a goal until January.
“But there is not much anyone could have done about it and it seems to be one of those things in football you cannot control. We had to try and get on with it and, since coming in January, I have really enjoyed my loan spell.
“The boys have been unbelievable since I came in from day one in August for the couple of days and then in January. The last thing I want is for them to go down. There’s some quality and some great, great lads in there.”
McBurnie’s time at Oakwell has been nothing less than personally rewarding, with a Championship Player of the Month award for February and an international cap for Scotland adding to his well-being.
His form is such that the list of Championship suitors keen to sign him, should Swansea decide to sell this summer, is a long one.
Yet listen to him this week and the summer “feels miles away”, a firm nod to his sole focus of somehow hauling Barnsley to safety, a task not helped by Tuesday’s bruising events at Nottingham Forest.
“There were a few harsh words after the game and a few home truths came in with some of the boys and that is what is needed sometimes. You need that bit of a rocket,” McBurnie added.
“I don’t think some of the boys realised the situation we are in and sometimes it takes a little bit of a kick to see the severity of the situation. It was in our own hands and now it is not.
“But I still have 100 per cent confidence that we can still do it.
“We need to find it within us in the next two games.”