Barnsley v Coventry City: Make room for us on the gallery of heroes, says Cameron McGeehan
Iconic images from Barnsley’s glorious past – both relatively recent ones and those from further back in time – warmly greet you like a cherished old friend.
There is John Hendrie planting a kiss on the cheek of Danny Wilson as he celebrated the Reds’ unforgettable promotion to the Premier League on one feted Spring day in 1997 and captain Neil Redfearn, arms aloft in sheer wonderment, being carried off the pitch by joyous supporters on that very same occasion.
Pictures of Mick McCarthy and the doyen of Oakwell, the late, great Norman Rimmington are similarly enduring as are the Champagne scenes from when the Reds last secured promotion – at Wembley in May, 2016.
The picture of Conor Hourihane – flanked by his team-mates – lifting the League One play-off winners’ trophy, decorated in red and white ribbons, will stand the test of time.
Those images of celebration are omnipresent in the minds of the present-day Barnsley players seeking to emulate the class of 2015-16 and claim the moniker of promotion heroes this May.
It may still be a little way off for the likes of Cameron McGeehan but securing their own place in the Reds’ history is a stirring emotion and powerful drive.
More so given that only Adam Davies remains from that golden crop who, just three years ago were the talk of the town – just as this current bunch will be if they return to the Championship.
On the players’ collective desire to complete another memorable chapter in Barnsley’s history and reprise the events of 2015-16, McGeehan said: “You want to get promoted and have that on your CV and play in the Championship next season.
“You want to be part of something special at the club and be on the pictures on the walls.
“All around the stadium, there are pictures of Conor Hourihane, Marc Roberts and the boys and we want that to be us. There is no reason why it cannot. We want to keep going.
“You see them everywhere and hear about the names of the guys who played as they are all playing at a good level now and you see them on TV.
“You see Hourihane scoring the other day for Ireland and think that is really good when you see where they have come from.
“Davo was obviously there and told us how good a feeling it was to get promoted and how there was such a nice vibe around the town with an open-top bus and stuff. It is really getting us motivated to keep going.”
Plying his trade on loan at Scunthorpe United this time last season following a bitter-sweet first season at the club, the transformation in fortunes for McGeehan is indicative of the dramatic turnaround in mood at Oakwell in under 12 months.
Kudos arrived earlier this week when McGeehan was named as one of four Barnsley players in the EFL’s League One team of the year with the others being Davies, Ethan Pinnock and Alex Mowatt.
Head coach Daniel Stendel was also named as the manager of the season in the third tier.
It has been a fair journey for McGeehan, who sampled promotion to the Football League early in his career at Luton in 2013-14.
With the finishing tape just about in sight, the Surrey-born midfielder and his team-mates – young, together and driven – have no designs upon cramping up at a such a critical juncture.
McGeehan, part of a second-placed Barnsley side who are unbeaten in 19 league matches and have not conceded a goal in seven games since February 16, said: “It has been a long journey from this time last year to now and I am learning lots with the manager and players and it is great to be part of this team.
“We are going into the business-end of the season and like (Sir Alex) Ferguson said, it is ‘squeaky-bum time’ and we have got to stay on it and at it with each other.
“I have had a promotion at Luton out of the Conference and that was rewarding. I came in January time, so I was not there for the whole time. It is nice being here for the whole time, but we have got to finish off the job.”
Motivated to also make up for the dual disappointment of last season which saw Barnsley relegated and loan side Scunthorpe beaten in the play-off semi-finals by Rotherham United, the 23-year-old added: “People say the best way to go up is through the play-offs, but I think the top two is the way to do it.
“It shows you are one of the two best teams in the league and that is what we want to do. We want to be promoted early and get it done. That is the aim, we are not really looking at the play-offs.”