By Tony Leighton
Veteran Burnley defender Mike Duff is celebrating a decade of life at Turf Moor with a promotion to the Premier League that in many ways he feels is more satisfying than the one the Clarets earned via the Play-Offs five years ago.
Duff has played almost 350 games for Burnley since joining the club from Cheltenham Town in 2004, so he is as well placed as anyone to put in context a Sky Bet Championship campaign that has surprised many outside Turf Moor.
The 36-year-old defender, the only member of the 2008/09 playing squad still with the club, told football-league.co.uk: "We've been more consistent in the league this season than we were when we went up through the Play-Offs.
"We did really well in the Cups that year, especially in the League Cup where we were 90 seconds from reaching the final before losing on aggregate to Tottenham. And of course the Play-Offs in their own way are a cup competition.
"We actually snuck into the Play-Offs that year, whereas this time we've been in the top two for what must be around 85 per cent of the season. That shows how consistent we've been - and that's for a team who nobody fancied.
"We made a great start, but when we were flying at the top of the table in October people were saying we'd fall away. And even in February, when we were comfortably in second place, they were saying the wheels would come off.
"But we've just quietly got on with our business. We've stuck together, always believing in our ability as a group and as individuals, and with a very good manager leading us we've more than deserved the promotion we've earned."
No one can surely deny Duff's claim. Burnley, with one of the smaller squads in the Championship and surrounded in the table by much more heavily financed clubs, have triumphed against the odds under the management of Sean Dyche.
Now they are looking forward to playing in the Premier League next term and aiming to stay up there longer than the one season they spent before suffering relegation at the end of an ultimately disappointing 2009/10 campaign.
That was a particularly frustrating season for Duff, who because of injury did not make his first appearance in the top flight until just before Christmas and in the end played only 11 league games before the Clarets stepped back down a level.
This time he is determined to get more games under his belt, though with his contract up in the summer the Northern Ireland international must first of all sort out his future - which he sincerely hopes will be at Turf Moor.
"I'd love to stay at the club and have another crack at the Premier League," said Duff. "It's every footballer's dream to play in the top flight, and after what happened to me last time we were there I'd like to go back and play more games.
"Hopefully that will be sorted and I can be part of a squad that holds its own in the Premier League. Our chances of doing that have already been written off, but nobody gave us a chance of promotion this season and look what we've done."
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