Gary Caldwell insists Wigan Athletic have proved themselves worthy champions of League One over the course of the season, despite ending on a rare low point yesterday.
A Latics side with very little to play for went down 4-1 at the DW Stadium to a Barnsley side looking to cement sixth spot in the table.
However, Caldwell says the manner of the defeat – and one or two envious comments thrown in their direction over the last nine months – should take nothing away from his players.
“It’s not been easy – I don’t care what anyone says,” Caldwell recognised.
“You can talk about parachute payments, but it’s not been easy to get the success we’ve had.
“We deserve to let our hair down now and enjoy it.”
After a patchy start, caused by the huge turnover of players last summer, Caldwell’s men proved themselves head and shoulders better than anything in the division.
But he says the hard work has already started to assemble a squad he feels can compete next term in the second tier.
“I’m happy with the squad, but if there’s somebody better out there then I’ll look to bring them in,” he revealed.
“I said to the players after the game that they can’t rest - they have to be ready to go again.
“Very quickly you can be cast aside in this game, and they all have to come back hungry and show me the desire they’ve shown this season is still there, and they want to stay at the club.”
The vast majority of the 18,000 inside the DW stayed on to see Craig Morgan lift the League One title amid euphoric scenes.
And the icing on the cake was applied when Juan Carlos Garcia – who is battling leukaemia – made his way on to the field to celebrate with his team-mates.
“It puts it all into perspective for me, when you see what he’s had to go through,” Caldwell added.
“Winning and losing a football match doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.
“To have him with us on the pitch was really special.”