Cup defeat heartache drives Carl McHugh's dreams
Carl McHugh admits that his previous cup final heartache is driving him on ahead of Motherwell’s huge Scottish Cup final clash with Glasgow Celtic tomorrow.
The Donegal lad - who will skipper the Steelmen at Hampden Park – is no stranger to big days out.
A triumph against heavy odds over Brendan Rodgers's men would no doubt soothe the aching recollection of defeat to the same opposition in the League Cup final earlier in the campaign.
At previous club Bradford, the player suffered a 5-0 thrashing by Swansea in the 2013 Football League Cup final and also came out on the wrong end of the 2016 League Two Play-off decider against Wimbledon.
McHugh says that reaching cup deciders is exciting. But he admits they're all about the winning. He does not want to taste final defeat again.
“Getting to two cup finals is one thing but we definitely don’t want to be losing two,” he said.
“We don’t want to feel that disappointment again. We’ll go in as massive underdogs. But that suits us fine. We’ve had that tag at certain stages this season and we’ve pulled off the upsets. So we’ll take that all day.
“The way we’ve approached it this season; we’re not scared of anyone. We really believe that on our day we can beat anyone. That includes Celtic. We’ve our own way of playing. We may get criticised for it. But again, we’re not bothered.
“We have an identity. That’s what the manager has given us. Sides know when they play us they’re in a game.
“We’re a big, strong team and we work really hard for one and other. That’s what we’ll look to do again. Make sure everyone puts in everything and make Celtic work for every single ball.”
McHugh is enjoying another fine campaign in the Scottish Premiers League. But his route to the big time was far from straight forward. Having been released by Reading back in 2012, the easiest decision might have been to accept his lot and head home.
However, subsequent and impressive spells at both Bradford and Plymouth Argyle caught the eye of Motherwell in 2016.
A horrific head injury, which threatened his career, was also overcome.
And the way in which he conducted himself on the pitch following his return convinced boss Stephen Robinson to hand him not just a new two-year deal but also the captain's armband.
McHugh admits that those dark days of uncertainty, both at the beginning of his career cross-channel and at the start of last season, were difficult to endure.
But he never once contemplated throwing in the towel.
He said: “I haven’t really looked back on any of that. Maybe when I finish up I’ll look back at all that stuff.
“I moved away from home at 16. That was tough. I just wanted to make sure I gave it everything – squeeze as much out of my career as I could.
“There are a lot of better players than me that have come over to England or Scotland but, for one reason or another, it didn’t work out for them.
“It’s a tough, tough career.
“But I wanted to be able to say to myself that I’d at least given it everything. I never thought about packing it in.
“I didn’t want to be looking back years later and saying why didn’t I stick it out or why didn’t I try harder.
“I’ve had wee bits of luck along the way. There have been many tough days believe me.
“But the breaks I had… going to Plymouth was really good for me. I played a lot of football.
“Coming up here was such an opportunity. Getting the captaincy has been a big challenge. But I’ve enjoyed it.
“Playing in these kind of games – Celtic in a cup final – that’s what it’s all about. It’s what I dreamed about as a kid.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in a few big cup finals but they only matter if you win. I don’t want to lose another one.”
The 25-year-old won't have to look far to find a friendly face when he leads his side out at a packed Hampden.
Over 100 family and friends made the journey to Wembley for the 2013 English League Cup final. It'll be more of the same no doubt this time out.
“It’s great for them,” he said on those travelling from West Donegal.
“I hope they enjoy themselves. It’s definitely not a distraction – people texting or sending messages. But the focus for me is all on the game.
“I don't know if it will come close to my time at Bradford and getting to the League Cup final. So many of my friends and family came over. There’ll all on board again this time and I’m sure ones might decide this week in the lead up.”
McHugh is also a massive Donegal GAA fan.
Had his career taken a different direction he may well have been lining out for Tir Chonaill in their Ulster SFC opener against Cavan last weekend.
Declan Bonner is a clubmate and has managed McHugh at various grades at Na Rossa.
McHugh hopes to return home next week with a cup winners medal in his pocket.
Then, he says he'll be jumping on the green and gold bandwagon ahead of Derry at Celtic Park on May 27.
He said: “Definitely – that’s the plan! I’m sure they’re disappointed they didn’t stay in the league. But they were trying new things. Declan knows what he's doing.
“They’re up and running now after the weekend (against Cavan). A lot of young players have been blooded. Hopefully now I can look forward to getting to see them and that they enjoy a long summer.”