Carl McHugh’s Capital One Cup dream will hit another level tonight when he faces his idol in the semi-final opener against Aston Villa.
City’s first ever appearance in the last four has also turned into the “battle of Donegal” as McHugh shares the Valley Parade pitch with Shay Given.
The Villa keeper hails from the same corner of Ireland as the 19-year-old centre half, who admits he will be pinching himself again.
It has been a memorable competition for McHugh, who made his debut at Watford in the second round before playing starring defensive roles to shock Wigan and Arsenal. But taking on Given will top it all.
McHugh said: “Shay is such a hero of mine and the biggest player to ever come out of Donegal.
“I watched him playing for Ireland in World Cups when I was growing up and never imagined that one day we might be on the same pitch. His is definitely the jersey I’ll be looking for afterwards.
“And maybe I can get up for a set-piece and put a wee header past him? We’re definitely dreaming now!”
McHugh will return after a recent calf injury to continue an unforgettable first season in senior football.
“It’s been crazy, I don’t know how else to describe it. All the performances have been disciplined and everybody has followed their roles to the letter.
“That’s what we’re going to have to do again. Playing over two legs minimises the chance of a shock but we want to keep it alive going back to Villa Park.
“They are top international and Premier League players and it’s going to be a massive test. But that’s why we all play the game.”
Phil Parkinson is just as confident that City can once more rise to the occasion in the club’s first semi-final since they lifted the FA Cup for the only time in 1911.
He said: “It’s great for the likes of Carl McHugh. To mark the players he’s been up against is an experience that will never, ever leave him.
“Not only that but to play against them on the big stage in front of the TV cameras and be able to handle that pressure is fantastic.
“We just want to be in it after tonight. A draw wouldn’t be the worst scenario in the world.
“If we can be in the game going into Villa Park, there will be a packed house down there and the expectations on Aston Villa will be absolutely massive.
“It’s a big ask but I do feel the crowd will take us to another level.”
Garry Thompson, the goalscorer against Arsenal, is still out and James Hanson didn’t train yesterday after taking a knock.
Left back James Meredith is slowly recovering from his illness but City will not take any chances if they feel he is not ready.
Tonight marks their 38th game of a non-stop campaign – 11 more than Villa have played.
Parkinson added: “You listen to a lot of Premier League managers having to rotate the players and we’ve had to deal with so many more games with such a small squad. It’s been a huge achievement.”
City are only the fourth team from the fourth tier to reach the semi-finals.
Villa boss Paul Lambert was in charge of the last one, when his Wycombe side faced Chelsea in 2007.
He said: “I know what it is like. The Bradford lads will give everything and more because the adrenaline will be high.
“Bradford have earned the right to get this far. Underestimate them at your peril, I think.”
Meanwhile, City have extended West Ham winger Blair Turgott’s loan by another month and he could feature.