Not too many people had heard of Carl McHugh until quite recently.
But the Donegal teenage starlet’s impressive display at the back for a threadbare Bradford City, in recent months, including their surprise slaying of Premier League side Wigan in the Capital Cup, has certainly got people talking.
A full 59 league places below Roberto Martinez’s side, the League Two outfit dragged Wigan into a penalty shootout where they eventually prevailed. And the reward for Phil Parkinson’s brave Bantams and McHugh in the quarter-finals is a home clash with Arsenal tonight.
McHugh says he can’t wait to tackle the Gunners. “Hopefully I’ll keep my place,” he said.
“I’m just intent on taking it a game at a time at the moment. It came about with the few lads being injured. Sometimes it takes something like that for you to get your chance at this level. When I knew I was in, I was determined to make the most of it.”
When their passage to the quarter-finals was finally secured, the anticipation ahead of the following night’s draw was massive for the Donegal youngster. A Manchester United fan as a boy, he was delighted to have landed one of the truly big guns in Arsenal.
“It’s the stuff dreams are made of. I’m delighted with the draw. When I was looking at the names left in the hat, it was either Chelsea or United that we wanted.
“Arsenal are a huge club with massive players and that’s going to be a special night when they visit our place. Who knows what might happen when they land at a packed house in Bradford? We had 5,000 at Wigan and it should be a great occasion.
“Bradford is a massive club and everyone here is determined to move it back up the football ladder. The cup draw is great but the league is the most important thing. We need to take our cup momentum into that.”
McHugh, who counts Donegal GAA star Patrick McBrearty as one of his best friends, said the All-Ireland winner was one of the first people on the phone offering his congratulations after the draw was made.
Another man who got his hands on the Sam Maguire, Anthony Thompson, is McHugh’s sister Nicole’s boyfriend. And the former Reading trainee says both will take in tonight’s action with the Champions League competitors.
Having taken advantage of both men’s good nature at various junctures of Jim McGuinness’ side’s Ulster and All-Ireland SFC runs; McHugh admitted he was obliged to return the favour.
“They had a huge summer with Donegal and I was delighted for them when they managed to take Sam. They definitely seemed more interested in the Arsenal game than the Accrington Stanley one, for some reason!”
Meanwhile Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud misses tonight’s clash with a back injury while Theo Walcott (calf), Laurent Koscielny (thigh) and Andre Santos (stomach muscle) are also out.
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