Irish invasion lifts McHugh as Bradford seek happy ending to fairytale run
THE hype back home reached new levels for Carl McHugh recently when the 'Donegal Democrat' ran a competition with a prize of three signed face-masks of the Bradford defender.
His part in the Bantams' run to Sunday's League Cup final has captured the attention of his fellow countymen. His childhood dream was to be part of an All-Ireland success, a feat that his good friend Paddy McBrearty achieved last September.
"But I think playing in a Wembley cup final could be better," said the Lettermacaward man ahead of the joust with Swansea.
After being released by Reading last summer, the centre-half's career has been rejuvenated by Bradford's fairytale run, with the notable scalps of Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa taken along the way. His header past childhood hero Shay Given was the undoubted highlight of his semi-final experience.
Given, Packie Bonner and Seamus Coleman are the most famous football exports from that part of the world, but this is McHugh's chance to shine and the presence of 111 friends and family at the final on Sunday demonstrate the extent to which it is a big deal for those who have shared in his journey.
"I haven't paid for their tickets," he said. "I couldn't be doing that. That would be about a year's wages for me! My mum and dad have sorted it all out and people have just given the money to them.
"The majority are from Donegal and there are a few others from around the country, who I've played football with down the years. It's great for everyone to come over. I tried my best to make sure that anyone who wants to go could buy a ticket."
Certainly, on League Two money, McHugh cannot afford to be throwing the cash around. Instead, his dream is for this opportunity to open doors. An Ireland U-21 debut against Holland earlier this month was a step in the right direction.
He played GAA until the age of 15 and reckons the physicality of the game has helped him.
However, in terms of preparation for Sunday, he is focusing on the positives from surviving a demanding second leg at Villa Park.
"There's the whole sentimental thing about Wembley and everyone dreams about playing there but I don't think it could be tougher than having to go to Villa Park," he stresses.
"Seeing all those flags waving, with all their fans behind them, it was very intimidating.
"For a League Two team to get there is unbelievable. We're massive underdogs and there's no pressure. We just want to put in a performance that makes the fans proud of us."