Hartlepool United legend Micky Barron interview: Play-off heartbreak, Dave Challinor's job, Pools' crucial player and what promotion would mean for the town
Micky Barron is the only player to have led Hartlepool United out in a play-off final – that will all change on Sunday.
It’s been 16 years since Pools’ 4-2 League One play-off final defeat to Sheffield Wednesday at the Millennium Stadium.
Since then, it's largely been a downhill road for a club who were once just minutes away from the Championship.
But after dropping out of the Football League in 2017, Dave Challinor’s Hartlepool side have really turned a corner this season and are on the cusp of a return.
Torquay United stand in their way in the promotion final at Ashton Gate this Sunday (2pm kick-off).
And Barron, who made 374 appearances for Pools between 1996 and 2007, is optimistic his former club can secure a first ever play-off promotion.
“I’ve been really impressed,” he told The Mail. “They’ve got a good formation and have shown they can score goals.
"I just want to say how magnificent a job the manager and the coaching staff have done because there was a point where they were having a few iffy results and there were some doubts but they stuck with it.
"I speak to Sweens [Antony Sweeney] quite a bit and how tells me how impressed he’s been with the staff and how the players have bought into it. It will be fitting for Dave, the staff and everyone involved at the club if they could get promoted.”
Barron also highlighted the importance of his former teammate and current Pools centre-back Gary Liddle.
"If Lidds is playing at the back, he makes them so strong with how reliable and comfortable on the ball he is,” he said. They’ve got a good structure about them and a real goal threat which is a major plus when you’re going into these types of games.
"But Lidds, he’s calm, collected and been there and done it all before and I expect him to be a big player for the side on Sunday.
"It’s important to have people like that at the club, especially with Lidds being on the pitch. I can’t believe Lidds is still playing because he was there when I was there but he still makes everything look so easy!
"We all knew he was a quality player at the time but he’s still going strong and he’s the one player who maybe won’t win the game for Hartlepool but he will make sure they’re in the game with everyone organised and composed and who knows, he may even break a sweat!
"To have people like him, Sweens as a coach and obviously Buster [Ian Gallagher] there, these are people with family and friends who support the club and have real connections to the club.
"That’s really important going into a game like this to understand first hand all the pain the fans have been through.
"They’ve got one chance now to focus on Sunday where I’m sure the atmosphere will be brilliant not just at the game but around the town as well.
"There has been a real togetherness with the town and the club again which has helped them get to where they are this season.”
The week building up to Sunday’s final has seen Poolies queue outside Victoria Park overnight to ensure a match ticket, they’ve also sold out a chartered flight to Bristol Airport.
"You can sense the buzz around the town again,” Barron added.
“The biggest thing is the anticipation leading up to it. The day before seems to go so slowly and you just want to get out there and play.
"It’s about relaxing those couple of days before, we were all together in the hotel which helped. We played some snooker and cards to try and make things as normal as possible.”
Barron watched the closing stages of Hartlepool’s previous play-off final against Wednesday from the sidelines as they looked to hang on to a 2-1 lead.
But with nine minutes remaining, Chris Westwood controversially conceded a penalty and saw red to give The Owls a way back into the game that they would go on to win in extra-time.
Reflecting on that day in Cardiff back in 2005, Barron said: “It was tough for me because I had an injury from the Tranmere game and it was touch and go whether I would play.
"It got to the point where the manager was happy to play me but I did expect to come off.
"When you’re on the pitch at least you have some say in what happens but when you’re watching from the sidelines and the other team start to go ahead, it’s a frustrating one.
"I was lucky enough to play that day and the game itself is certainly a what if moment. You can’t say with any certainty if Westy hadn’t gave away the penalty, we would have gone on to win the game.
"We had a good chance and it’s something I look back on now full of pride, I don’t look back on it negatively and think if only we’d won that.
"We were punching way above our weight at the time and when you speak about it with that group of players there is a real pride around where we got to.
“It would have been a huge ask for us to stay in the Championship if we’d gone up. It would have been one of the greatest achievements ever given our budget and players.
“I was very proud to play for Hartlepool but nowadays some younger people almost dismiss it as ‘ah well you’re a non-league player’.
"It’s hard to explain to people we were a team who were looking to go into the Championship at one point so just to get that status of being a league club back again would be massive.
"Everyone has worked so hard this season and you just want to see them go and finish the job off.”