Barnsley v Rochdale: Hard work is chapter and verse for Marley Watkins

MARLEY WATKINS'S footballing career has not exactly been as free-flowing as the poetry written by his late grandfather Vernon, a revered poet from Swansea '“ the city where he was raised.

Barnsley's head coach Lee Johnson.

Or for that matter, the verse composed by Dylan Thomas, who counted Watkins as a friend and described his fellow scribe as “the most profound and greatly accomplished Welshman writing poems in English”.

Watkins’s grandson has not quite seen his name in lights in his footballing odyssey yet, although he has had one or two fleeting moments in a nomadic career.

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It started off at boyhood club Swansea City and has taken in calling points at Cheltenham Town, Bath City, Hereford United and Inverness Caledonian Thistle before settling at Barnsley last summer.

Barnsley's head coach Lee Johnson.

Watkins is quietly penning a successful chapter of substance at Oakwell where he has been one of the more reliable players in a season which has not been without its difficulties.

The Reds are emerging stronger after a much-needed upturn in fortunes, results and mood.

Just as Watkins did after some tough days during his time at Bath after dropping into non-league obscurity after leaving Cheltenham, having earlier failed to make the grade with the Swans, whom he followed as a boy.

Watkins, who will line up against Rochdale this afternoon, aiming to help continue the Reds’ renaissance, said: “Experiences definitely make you stronger. I have had dark days, but great ones along the way as well.

Barnsley's head coach Lee Johnson.

“I went to Cheltenham and got a two-year professional deal through the youth team and then went on loan to Bath and moved permanently.

“That was when I went through some stuff; I wouldn’t say I was depressed, but there was some dark stuff.

“I moved to full-time and then it was part-time and there was nothing to do. I was just going to boxing gyms and training on my own because I was lonely. But you get through it.

“It was all for a good reason and it’s all about doing the family proud.”

The pain of rejection at the Liberty Stadium, allied to some of his experiences in the West Country did have one big positive effect for Watkins.

It hardened him up and made him appreciate that if he was going to enjoy the sort of career that he craved, he would have to graft for it with nothing in life given for free.

His workaholic traits and professional attitude on and off the pitch were recently lauded by Reds’ head coach Lee Johnson, who quipped that his ferocious drive saw the player vomit recently after pushing himself to the limits in a particularly intense gym session.

For Watkins, it is all or nothing with relentless hard work having its rewards in the end.

He added: “You must give 100 per cent in every aspect, even off the pitch.

“I don’t know if I was working too hard or had breakfast too close! I’d like to think it was working too hard as I like to push myself.

“I feel with some people who get released that you don’t know what it is inside them. I like to think until the day I retire that I am not going to stop giving my all.

“When you are young, you dream to play at the highest level and that is what I am aiming to do. Whether I do or not, we’ll see.

“I always look at the big picture and don’t lose my head and I know that over time, hard work will prevail. I want to get better every day.”

Alongside being a grafter, Watkins is clearly conscientious about his trade and passionate about his craft.

After being moved inside from the wing, he is now seeking to build a striking partnership with Sam Winnall, and recent signs are certainly encouraging in that regard.

He added: “Me and Sam are in the card school together and always discuss what we can do better and do care a lot about giving our all and we are also hard on each other.

“But I feel we are a good partnership and we complement each other well. He’s a great lad as well.

“I feel like I have contributed to a lot of goals, but I think there’s a lot more to come, which I am looking forward to proving. I don’t just want to say it.”

Despite an at times soul-searching campaign for Barnsley, 2015-16 has been given the kiss of competitive life by the club’s run to the northern area final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, with the Reds being one victory away from their first appearance at Wembley since April, 2008.

First, they must dispose of Fleetwood Town in the second leg on the Fylde coast in just under a fortnight’s time on February 4, with Watkins aiming for a hat-trick of appearances in successive showpieces.

Watkins was part of the Inverness side who lost on penalties in the Scottish League Cup final to Aberdeen in 2014.

The 25-year-old fared better last year when the Highland outfit beat Falkirk 2-1 to lift the Scottish Cup final for the first time in their history – scoring their opener along the way.

Watkins said: “In my last few seasons I have played in two finals and can, hopefully, make it a third in a row.

“You are in the game to win stuff and play at big stadiums like Wembley.

“Because of the bad run we had earlier in the season, we want to give the fans something positive to cheer about with a good day out at Wembley.

“It will be a massive day for the club and we will be up for it when it comes around.”