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McHugh: 'We have no fear'

THE players of Bradford City FC, currently in eighth position in England's fourth division, all had their own ways of preparing for tonight's big game, an English League Cup semi-final against Aston Villa.

Donegal lad Carl McHugh, who starred for Bradford in their memorable quarter-final win over Arsenal in December, sat down last week to watch 'Jimmy's Winning Matches', RTé's documentary abo ut Jim McGuinness' feat in transforming Donegal from no-hopers to champions.

At the moment there are 60 league places between Villa and Bradford, and even allowing for Villa's problems in the Premier League, Paul Lambert's side are expected to brush past the Bantams and ease themselves into a Wembley appearance for the League Cup final. But for the 19-year-old, Donegal's successful Sam Maguire campaign has given McHugh another reminder of what can happen in sport.

"I don't know which would have been be a bigger shock, Donegal winning the All-Ireland or us making it past a couple of Premier League teams and getting to Wembley," says McHugh, who has helped the Bantams overcome Wigan and Arsenal on the way to tonight's last-four meeting with Villa. "I saw the Jimmy McGuinness programme about Donegal on RTé Player last week, it was just great to remind myself of what a great year it was for football back home in 2012, and maybe it's a good omen for our games this week.

"I was over in Dublin for the semi-final and the final with Donegal last year. I'm good friends with (Donegal forward) Paddy McBrearty.

"I played in some of the Donegal soccer teams with him, he was over for the Arsenal game, and my sister goes out with (Donegal half-back) Anthony Thompson, so that's an interest for me as well.

"I would have played plenty of GAA when I was younger. I didn't even play soccer until I was 10 or 11. I played for my school and my local club, Na Rossa, but there just came a point when I chose soccer over the Gaelic.

"I really miss the Gaelic, sometimes over here in England I'd just love to play a game every now and again.

"If we get to Wembley I think I'll be in demand for tickets from people back home. I'll sort out as many people as I can so then I can go looking for favours if Donegal make it to the All-Ireland final again this year," McHugh told the Evening Herald, as the man from Lettermacaward tries to overcome injury in time to face Villa.

The local connection will be even stronger for the defender tonight should Shay Given play for Villa.

Hero

"It would be great to play against Shay. Being from Donegal he's a hero of mine, I think every young footballer in Donegal looks up to Shay because of what he's done in the Premier League and with Ireland over the years. I saw him play in the World Cup for Ireland when I was a kid so to play against him would be amazing and hopefully I can get his jersey after the match," says McHugh, who joined Bradford from Reading last summer. Having made headlines with that dramatic win over Arsenal, it's been back to basics for the club since then. The League Two side still manage to pull in crowds of 12,000 for league games, although the romance of the cup is back again this evening.

"We have tried not to get too caught up in the Villa game. We've had so many league games over the last while that we were very busy, and I have been out with injury so my focus has been on getting fit again. I was on the bench when we played Barnet on Saturday, but I'd hope to be able to play against Villa tonight," said the Irish defender, who spent four seasons with Reading - and also had a successful spell in the League of Ireland on loan to Dundalk.

"Our form hasn't been great in the last while, we've only had one win in the last six or seven games, but we're looking forward to the Villa match and we'll just enjoy it as much as we can. For a club like ours to get to Wembley for the final would be a massive occasion, something for us all to relish.

"I played in the games against Wigan and Arsenal and they were brilliant occasions. Even the early round, when we beat Watford, was a great experience for us as Watford have so many top players. We have beaten a higher league team in every round so far. Hopefully we can keep that run going and maybe get to the final, or at least get a result tonight that we can take to Villa Park for the second leg.

"For me to play against all these top teams this early in my career has been brilliant. We'll have a packed house for the game tonight and we probably need Villa to have an off-night for something to happen for us, but we showed against Arsenal what we can do on our day.

"Even if they rest their big names they'll still have internationals to come into the side so whatever side they have out they'll be difficult. The main aim for us is to keep the tie alive for the second leg.

"We feel we can get past Villa. Each time we have come up against opposition from a higher league we have worked out a game plan and got through so we know it can be done. If you prepare well, stick to the game plan and get a small bit of luck on the night then it can happen for you."

Bradford v Aston Villa
Sky Sports 1, 7.45