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Carl McHugh back on a high at Bradford City after Reading release
Carl McHugh may be a novice in football terms but he has already tasted the highs and lows.
The teenage defender has been one of the unsung heroes of City’s logic-defying charge to the Capital One Cup final.
His performances in the two legs of the semi-final against Aston Villa earned him the Football League young player of the month award for January as well as a cap for the Republic of Ireland under-21s.
It has been a debut season of dreams for the lad from Donegal – and a dramatic upturn in fortunes after Reading let him go last summer.
McHugh said: “Being released is awful, I won’t lie to you about that. I was devastated.
“I got injured at a crucial time and I felt like things had been taken out of my hands. But Reading gave me a brilliant education.
“And it was obviously the right decision as if I was still there then I wouldn’t be playing any football. I wouldn’t have this incredible experience.”
Reading’s strong bond with Phil Parkinson earned McHugh a trial with City, which began in his native Ireland against Wexford. The rest is history.
He said: “My family and friends were great. They kept me motivated and made sure I kept my head up – even in the bad times, you have to stay positive.
“The season so far has made everything worthwhile. I couldn’t have dreamed of anything like this happening a year ago.”
McHugh has shifted a staggering 111 tickets for Wembley – “I’ve not paid for them all myself!” – and wants to thank those back home who have helped him on the way.
He said: “They have watched me develop from a young lad playing Gaelic football to soccer and over to England. It is great to repay that support.
“I was decent enough at Gaelic football and played for the local club but decided that soccer was the one for me when I was 15.”
The cup run has been an integral part of McHugh’s emergence. He made his debut at left back at Watford in round two and then delivered an immense display in the middle of the back four to blank Wigan.
He said: “Watford away seems a long time ago and I’ll admit that I thought that was as good as it was going to get. Beating a Championship team on their ground on my debut was the stuff of dreams – but it’s just escalated from there.
“If we had lost that game 5-0 then things could have turned out very differently. But instead things went really well and everything came from there.”
McHugh was in the crowd when Swansea were last at Wembley two years ago. As a Reading scholar, he watched the Welsh side win 4-2 to earn promotion to the Premier League.
He said: “The game was brilliant and then I watched Reading get promotion last year. That made me want success. You crave it when witnessing scenes like that and I wanted a part of it.”