Unexpected date at Wembley the icing on the cake for grateful McHugh
Bradford City's Irish defender Carl McHugh scores the third goal against Aston Villa during the League Cup clash at Valley Parade. photograph: paul ellis/afp
SOCCER ANGLES:Joining Bradford City has resulted in a dream opportunity for the Donegal man
Such were the levels of interest and expectation when Bradford City headed to Watford for their League Cup second round tie last August just 280 of the club’s supporters made the journey. Tomorrow at Wembley Donegal’s Carl McHugh will have almost half that number of friends and family sitting in the stands.
For a club whose last significant cup-winning team lost a couple of its members in first World War trenches, the trip to Wembley is, as you would imagine, quite a big thing.
For McHugh, whose chance of playing at anything like this level looked like it might have passed when he was released by Reading last year, it still feels like an out and out miracle. Quiet-spoken and utterly unassuming, the Ireland under-21 international sounds like someone still slightly stunned by the scale of the turnaround in his fortunes.
Having joined Reading as a 16-year-old, his only opportunities to play first-team football over the next three years came during loan spells at Swindon Supermarine and Dundalk.
His cause wasn’t helped by some injury problems and the end of last season always looked like being crunch time for the Donegal man but Reading’s promotion back to the Premier League might actually have sealed his fate.
Brian McDermott and Eamonn Dolan said they would recommend him to others, though, and they were as good their word. Bradford boss Phil Parkinson is a former Reading skipper and, within a matter of weeks, McHugh showed him enough in a trial game against Wexford Youths to get asked over for a week. That, in turn, led to a one-year deal and 20 odd games later, several of which were part of this cup run, he is in talks about extending his stay. He is, unsurprisingly, relieved at the way it has all panned out.
“It’s all a big relief for me because it was a very worrying time, a very uncertain time. You’re in the same position as hundreds of other footballers who are out of contract. It was no different for me.
“It’s what you wanted to do ever since you were young, it’s your dream and you think that all of a sudden it’s been taken away from you. The way it is I don’t think you can ever feel comfortable again. But then the way football is I don’t think you can be comfortable. After what happened you don’t ever want that to happen again.
“It just goes to show,” he continues, “12 of us got released and I think I’m the only one that got a football league club. Some of them were better footballers than me, I can guarantee you that, but it’s just that little bit of luck, it mightn’t have happened but you just have to keep going, to believe in yourself, in your ability and in the fact that if you get a chance you’ll take it. That’s the way it is, it’s a brutal game.”