Republic of Ireland midfielder Stephen McPhail has set his sights on a return to the Barclays Premier League after just missing out on FA Cup glory.
The 28-year-old will hope to line up for Ireland against Serbia at Croke Park on Saturday evening a week after picking up a losers’ medal at Wembley following Coca-Cola Championship Cardiff’s 1-0 defeat by top-flight Portsmouth.
But when he returns to action after his hard-earned summer break, his country’s World Cup qualifying campaign will not be the only thing on his mind.
McPhail, of course, tasted Premier League action after emerging from the ranks at Leeds, and is desperate to sample it once again.
He said: “That’s all I want to do, I want to play there as soon as possible, hopefully with Cardiff.
“It’s the best place to play your football. It’s a massive ambition of mine to get back playing there where I have done before and experienced some great occasions.
“I just want to play and I will be doing my utmost, if I am at Cardiff next season, to try to get there with Cardiff, which would be really special.”
However, McPhail is acutely aware at how difficult a task that could be with Derby, Reading and Birmingham fighting for a swift return to the big time in an already hugely competitive division.
He said: “The teams that have left the Premier League and the teams that are coming up – there are some huge clubs, and if Leeds come up as well, there’s another one.
“It’s going to be probably the toughest year, next season, in terms of the big clubs that have been there in the Premier League and done it. There will be a big scrap on for everyone to get out.”
Cardiff established their credentials with a remarkable run to the FA Cup final which included a win at Middlesbrough, and McPhail admits it would be tough for another Championship club to repeat the feat.
He said: “It was a disappointing end to it – we were all devastated because we wanted to win the game.
“But in a couple of months’ time, we will look back and for a Championship club to get to an FA Cup final, I don’t think it will happen ever again.”
McPhail flew out to meet up with the Ireland squad in Portugal two days after the final, and has spent the time since getting to know new boss Giovanni Trapattoni and his coaching team and trying to make a quick impression ahead of Saturday’s game.
He said: “We are all trying to get on the pitch. We don’t know who is going to play or who is not even going to be on the bench.
“Everyone is doing their utmost to try to be involved on Saturday and if you get some time on the pitch, you have got to try to impress.”
Shane Long and Daryl Murphy, who missed training on Tuesday with calf and Achilles injuries respectively, were back in action yesterday, but Wes Houlahan (knee) and Darren Potter (heel) require further rest.