Carl McHugh is “under no illusions” about the fight he faces for first-team football at City.

The young defender is enjoying being back in his native Ireland – a year on from convincing Phil Parkinson that he was worth a professional contract.

McHugh is now very much part of the squad after a debut season that saw him make 26 appearances and score three times, most famously against Aston Villa in the first Capital One Cup semi-final match.

But the 20-year-old, who signed a new deal in the first week of pre-season, is braced for a real battle to claim a starting spot.

McHugh, who played the final 30 minutes in last night’s 4-1 win against Athlone Town, said: “I know there are five good centre halves at the club who are all going for places.

“I’m under no illusions how hard it’s going to be – it’s probably the most competitive part of the team – but that makes you play at your best and strive to do well.

“You’re always going to have tests and challenges as you move on and you have to keep proving yourself or you’ll get left behind. I know this season’s going to be a lot tougher for me and the whole squad. We’re moving up a level.

“Teams we’re playing against are going to be better than what we faced last year.

“But I’ve worked hard myself over the summer and in the last few weeks in pre-season.

“I just want to try and get as close as I can to the first team for the first few games and then hopefully stay in there.

“It’s a massive year again for me but I’ve got confidence in myself that if I get the chance I’ll be able to do well again.”

City are well ensconced in their training camp outside Dublin and McHugh appreciates the benefits of spending a week away in close proximity.

He said: “It’s great to go back fairly settled with the club. Last year I came over not knowing what could happen but this is very different.

“The facilities and training pitches are top class and you get really well looked after. It also helps everyone bond together, as I found last year.

“I went in there and after a week felt a big part of it, which is a big thing when you’re a new player.

“The lads have all looked well and the fitness is good again. As we showed last year, we had a marathon season and the boys were still running very strong at the end at Wembley.

“It shows you what a great job Nick (Allamby) and all the staff do to keep us in good condition and everyone’s come back this year fit.

“And once we’ve had a good week in Ireland, we won’t be too far away after that.”