WE PARTIED AL BACK TO DONN LL THE WAY NY
THE coach carrying Doncaster’s victorious players away from Griffin Park wasn’t even out of London when the driver was ordered to a halt. “We stopped at the first off licence possible, just far enough outside Brentford not to upset anyone,” says Rob Jones, Rovers’ 33-year-old skipper.
“We got a few bottles of Champagne, a few cans of beer and had a party all the way back to Doncaster. Then we went straight out when we got home, as you’d expect.
“Did I keep up with the young lads? Yes, I did actually. Every now and then I’ll go off on one like the old days and this was one of those occasions. It was a very late one which became a very early one!”
If ever a celebration was deserved, this was it. Lodged belligerently in the top two for all but three days of 2013, Donny travelled to west London on the final Saturday knowing that defeat would see opponents Brentford go up automatically instead.
It was a day that promised drama, yet what it ultimately delivered would have been dismissed as far-fetched even in Hollywood.
Having defended resolutely for 93 minutes, Doncaster were facing devastation when Jamie McCombe’s unfortunate handball gave Brentford a last-gasp penalty.
But after Marcello Trotta crashed his spot-kick off the bar, Billy Paynter broke away for Donny and James Coppinger scored with the final kick of the season, clinching the title in the process. The entire sequence of events took just 17 seconds.
“It was an incredible game, incredible,” says Jones.“I’ve never gone through anything like that, with so much at stake and just 30 seconds to go.
“And for it to change so quickly from one scenario to another – I don’t think you’ll ever see anything like it again.
“Even now, it’s still a bit surreal to be honest. To be staring at the play-offs to going up as champions in 17 seconds is ridiculous. If I tell people in 10, 15 years, that I played in a game like that, they won’t believe me.”
For Brentford, the despair was absolute, especially when it emerged that Trotta had usurped skipper Kevin O’Connor in taking the crucial penalty.
But the fact remains that defeat would have been brutally harsh on a Doncaster side who came to spoil, stifle and scrap for the point they needed and – with Jones colossal at the back – did it to perfection.
“I thought we were fantastic on the day, right from start to finish,” says the big Teesider. “Yes, they hit the post early on. But we’d basically got to the 93rd minute without them getting anywhere near our goal. We were on the verge of seeing it out so it was obviously galling when the referee gave the penalty.
“But I never fancied their boy to score, not at any point. He’d taken an awful long time, he was fighting with his two teammates over who should take it.
“He wasn’t the main taker and he’d only been on the pitch five minutes. I remember thinking: ‘He might have won the battle with his team-mates but he won’t win the battle with (Donny Keeper) Neil Sullivan’. And he didn’t.
“I could never have imagined the aftermath though. Last time I looked at Billy Paynter he was hiding under his shirt on the halfway line. Next thing he’s sprinting away with the ball – you couldn’t write it!”
This is Jones’ second promotion in as many seasons having also skippered Sheffield Wednesday to the Championship last term. That, though, proved a purgatorial experience with the Owls releasing the 6ft 7ins stopper just a month after the end of the season.
“Of course I was disappointed, but I’d lost my place towards the end of the season so the writing was on the wall,” he admits.
“And I’m not complaining. I spent last season as captain of the club I supported all my life. Then I led them to a promotion so I’d eclipsed my boyhood dream. I loved every minute of it but the day I walked out of the club, a line was drawn.”
So isn’t Jones – now a player-coach at Donny – worried he might find himself surplus to requirements again? “No chance,” he insists. “This time, I’m going nowhere.”
One man who is leaving is manager Brian Flynn, who announced on Friday that he is moving upstairs to become a director of football.
However, while Jones hailed Flynn for seeing Rovers over the line, he reserved the bulk of his praise for former boss Dean Saunders, who rebuilt the squad following relegation from the Championship last season.
Saunders left to join Wolves in January, but will now pass Donny on the way down after the underperforming Molineux club were relegated from the Championship.
“I think you have to give Dean an awful lot of respect and gratitude for where we are today,” he said.“He and Brian Carey did all the hard work.
“They created a team out of nothing, brought a great blend of experienced players, unknown players, young lads. The work they did was quite methodical but it was clear and it suited everyone.
“And it wasn’t as if the gaffer was sacked.There was no need to change the philosophy, the personnel or the way we played. It was a case of just continuing the hard work that Dean had started.To be honest, I think we as players have to take a lot of credit for that.”
“When a manager leaves, it can derail a club.We could have gone on a meander and started to do our own thing.
“But we didn’t – we stuck together as a squad and stuck to the plans that Dean put in place.That’s why we will be playing in the Championship next year.
“I can’t wait - but for now all I want is a rest because I’m still drained from what happened on Saturday!”
DON AND DUSTED: Rob Jones celebrates the incredible title win with Gary Woods. Inset: Rob lifts the League One trophy
DON’T FORGET DEAN: Jones has thanked former boss Dean Saunders for his part in pro