Antony Sweeney: Why Hartlepool United's National League win over Torquay is 'bigger' than the League One play-off final against Sheffield Wednesday
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As a player, Sweeney was involved in two promotion campaigns for Pools and featured in the League One play-off final defeat to Sheffield Wednesday at the Millennium Stadium back in 2005.
But it’s the National League promotion final win over Torquay United at Ashton Gate that will stand out as the biggest he’s been involved in due to everything riding on it.
Hartlepool had spent the past four years in non-league football and a fifth may have been a real struggle due to the squad being torn apart and speculation over the future of manager Dave Challinor.
But thanks to a Bradley James wrist and the width of a crossbar in a penalty shoot out, Pools are back in the Football League.
“Sunday’s game was bigger than any game I’ve been involved as a player and I include the League One play-off final in that,” Sweeney told The Mail.
“To be a Championship would have been amazing but the worst case scenario is that you’re still a League One club which is still a fantastic place to be.
"The difference between being a National League club and an EFL club is huge so for the players to take that responsibility on and see us up was massive for the town and everyone involved.”
Sweeney made 444 appearances for Hartlepool as a player – a record only bettered by Watty Moore and Ritchie Humphreys – and has continued to make his mark at the club as a coach.
But the 2020-21 promotion campaign has left him itching to pull on the blue and white once again – although he’s ruled out a playing comeback.
“Absolutely, it is much harder being a coach in these [play-off] circumstances,” Sweeney added.
“There are certain aspects of being a footballer that I don’t miss but there have been several occasions this season where it’s whetted my appetite again and the final was certainly one of those occasions.
"When it’s a big game, you want to be a player, you want to have your destiny in your own hands rather than being helpless on the touchline.”