SOUTHERN LEAGUE: Webb's Wood to Wembley? The story of Carl McHugh
THE Webb’s Wood to Wembley journey is not a path well-trodden, but former Supermarine centre-back Carl McHugh will be hoping to do exactly that.
McHugh arrived at the then Southern Premier club as an 18-year-old in March 2011, with parent club Reading keen for the Donegal-born player to gain a taste of senior football.
The South Marston faithful immediately took the Royals scholar to their hearts when he headed a late equaliser in the 1-1 draw with Evesham.
During his seven-game loan spell, McHugh earned praise from joint bosses Gary Horgan and Matt Robinson and also memorably rifled home a glorious free kick against Didcot.
He was ultimately released by Reading last summer but found his career rejuvenated upon joining League Two Bradford.
The Bantams have established a reputation as Premier League giantkillers in the Capital One Cup and the Irishman has played no small part in taming Wigan, Arsenal and latterly Aston Villa.
Jordi Gomez, Lukas Podolski and Christian Benteke have not proved a problem for the ex-South Marston man, who headed home Bradford’s third goal in their 3-1 semi-final first leg win on Tuesday.
One man who could not be more pleased for McHugh is ex-Supermarine joint boss Horgan, who is now at Hungerford in a playing capacity.
“Carl came highly recommended and you could see from the first game that he didn’t think Supermarine were beneath him,” said Horgan.
“He had a real desire to make it in football and his attitude was fantastic while he was there.
“Given the plight we were in at the time, he showed great character for someone of such a young age.
“He was keen to learn off the lads he was playing with and he was one of the shining lights in the side towards the end of the season.
“I’ve watched some of the games he’s played for Bradford and I have to say fair play to him. He certainly deserves the accolades he’s getting at the moment.”
In 12 days, McHugh’s focus will be firmly on helping Bradford hold onto their 3-1 advantage at Villa in the second-leg clash.
Should he and his teammates avoid defeat, it will complete a remarkable personal journey for the former Southern League player.