Captain Conor Hourihane’s cool head and commitment to the cause has been invaluable to Barnsley according to caretaker boss Paul Heckingbottom.
The Irish maestro has had to rein in some of his natural attacking tendencies to function as part of an effective, disciplined midfield two this season.
His selflessness and leadership skills have been crucial to his side’s remarkable rise up the table since the turn of the year.
And Heckingbottom has highlighted the hard work his skipper undertakes in every game that often goes unnoticed.
“Sometimes a lot of the work he does is unseen,” said the 38-year-old. “Conor is calming, he’s grown into the role as a midfield two really well and his game understanding is good now.
“He understands what he wants to see in front of him and understands what he has to do.
“If we’re pressing from the front he has to make a lot of decisions based around what the front players do, and his understanding of the game has come on leaps and bounds.”
Hourihane was handed the armband at the start of the year by previous boss Lee Johnson when the Reds had just begun to put together a decent run of results.
Since taking over from former skipper Alfie Mawson, Hourihane has led his side to a memorable Johnstone’s Paint Trophy triumph, and the impending League One play-off final against Millwall on Sunday.
However, true to his reputation as a team player, the 25-year-old has praised the efforts of everyone involved at the club in turning the season on its head.
“Taking the captaincy from the bad run to the good run I suppose looks good from that point of view,” Hourihane told The Star.
“But it’s a collective turnaround, you can’t give anyone individual praise because that one person couldn’t change it round it’s impossible.
“We really had to get together as a team, as a club, and really go in the right direction and full credit to everyone.”
“There’s no recipe for it, it’s just hard work. There’s a good buzz and a good vibe about the place with a great team spirit, and it’s just long hours on the training pitch.
“Confidence is high. You get that feel about yourself when you go out on the pitch that it will take a good team to beat us, so things are looking good at the minute.
“We had a 25 per cent chance at the start of the play-offs and now it’s 50/50 so we’ll be going there looking to get the win.
“Being at Wembley before in the JPT we’ll know what to expect. It will be a similar stage, a similar kind of crowd, so that might give us an edge as well.”