TWENTY-year-old Carl McHugh will be hoping to draw on all the powers of his childhood superheroes when he lines out for Bradford City in the Capital One Cup final at Wembley on Sunday afternoon.
A ‘mad keen’ Power Ranger as a young boy growing up in Toome. Leitirmacaward, the young Donegal man will look to “morph” into one of his childhood superheroes when he takes the field against Premier Division opposition Swansea City.
Having already beaten top flight opposition in Wigan Athletic, Arsenal and Aston Villa this year, it could be argued that McHugh has already taken on superhero properties of his own in helping the Bantams reach the cup final.
More than one hundred of Carl’s neighbours, family and friends – many wearing ‘superhuman’ Donegal GAA jerseys – have now Leitir and surrounding areas bound for Wembley Stadium.
Leading the charge will be Carl’s proud parents Gerry and Mary, his brothers Adam and Aidan and his two sisters Nicole and Shannon.
“He’ll probably kill me but, as a child, he was more interested in being a Power Ranger than playing football. Gerry said to me one day: ‘What’s wrong with that fella? You would think he would go outside and kick and ball’ but that was his thing at the time,” his mum Mary said.
Carl eventually found sport and excelled in both GAA and soccer before concentrating on the latter.
However, it could have been so different had he decided to stay at home to pursue a career in gaelic football like his close friend and all-Ireland winner Patrick McBrearty.
Carl, Patrick and fellow Donegal man Brian McGroary spent a week on trial with Glasgow Celtic four years ago.
Within months of that week-long trip to Parkhead, McGroary had signed for English Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers while McHugh had taken up an offer at Championship club Reading. McBrearty, meanwhile, chose to stay at home, playing gaelic football with his club Kilcar and Donegal.
Fast forward to Sunday, September 23, 2012 and, as McBrearty proudly lofted the famous old Sam Maguire Cup into the Dublin sky, McHugh and McGroary watched on with mixed emotions from the stand.
Immensely proud of their achievement of their close friend, they were also frantically trying to resurrect their own fledgling professional soccer careers.
By that stage McGroary had returned home and had linked up with Derry City in the Eircom League while Carl McHugh was plying his trade in England with League Two club Bradford City.
On that historic September Sunday afternoon, Carl McHugh was on the brink of turning his back on the professional game and coming home. But he decided to give it one last go.
At 1.30am on the morning of the cup final Carl got out of bed to go for a training run. It was part of a strict training regime put in place by his new employers and it was the only window of opportunity open to him.
Brian McGroary takes up the story.
“Carl had been up since the middle of the night to get his run done. He’s then flown home and he’s sitting beside me at the All-Ireland final. When the game was over everyone was jumping with joy when Carl remembered that he had a flight to catch back to England in three hours time.
“He’s frustrated as he had not getting much game time with Bradford and was spending a lot of time on the bench. Suddenly he turned to me and says: ‘I don’t think I’m going back – I don’t want to go back’.
“Thankfully, in all the hype, he knew he had a job of work to do and he went back to Bradford more determined that ever to succeed,” McGroary explained.
“Within a week or two the two centre halves got injured and he got his break and look at where he’s at today,” he added.
McHugh, it seems, can do no wrong at present.
Last month he made his debut for the Republic of Ireland U21 team while he’s just been offered a new contract at Bradford. Throw in the Young Player of the Month prize for January announced this week and McHugh’s popularity is confirmed.
Former Donegal manager Declan Bonner, an All Ireland winner in 1992, is a neighbour of Carl McHugh ad he believes that the young centre back would have been on last year’s All-Ireland winning panel had he decided to stay and home and play GAA.
“Had he continued to play GAA I’ve no doubt that he could have been on the Donegal squad alongside McBrearty. The two of them were in the same age group. I remember when Na Rossa played Kilcar at U10 level. Carl played midfield and was marking Paddy (McBrearty) who scored 1-09 but Carl scored 1-10. He was a very good GAA player,” he said.
Na Rossa’s loss has been Bradford’s gain and everyone is Leitir, the greater Rosses and Donegal, will be cheering for a Bradford win tomorrow afternoon.