By Gareth Walker
The news of Bradford City making their first new signing of pre-season yesterday has been followed up quickly by the announcement that Carl McHugh and Nathan Doyle have signed one-year extensions to their contracts and will both be plying their trade at Valley Parade next season.
McHugh had a fantastic breakthrough season last year, having been signed on a free transfer following his release by Reading. The Donegal-born defender became a real star of the run to the League Cup Final – and his goal against Aston Villa was one of those spine-tingling moments that will live long in the memory and arguably summed up our fantastic year.
A versatile defender who can provide cover for James Meredith at left back as well as being primarily a centre back, McHugh has already been rewarded for his fine form with a call up to the Republic of Ireland Under 21 squad. He has signed a new deal on what are believed to be substantially improved terms, having previously been the lowest-paid player in the Bradford City squad. The nature of this deal will allow both parties to assess how the 20-year-old adapts to stepping up a division.
McHugh will be fighting for a place in the Bantams back line with Rory McArdle, Andrew Davies, Michael Nelson and the fit-again Luke Oliver. Having five central defenders on the books will provide Phil Parkinson with a wealth of options and the fact that all of our League Two defenders will be with us in League One shows the confidence that the manager has in their abilities.
Many of the stoppers in the City squad can be described as fans’ favourites for different reasons, and it will be interesting to see how the battle for a starting place develops.
Another player who is certainly popular with the supporters is Doyle and many of us are breathing a little sigh of relief this afternoon now we are safe in the knowledge that he will be with us in League One. Doyle is certainly one of my favourite players at the club, and I would have been extremely disappointed if the rumours of him signing for a certain local rival in the division above had come to fruition.
Doyle trained today for the first time this pre-season, having been absent from Woodhouse Grove on Monday and Tuesday – and a clearly delighted Parkinson was quick to point out his flexibility and importance to the squad.
It was a real coup to get the former Hull and Derby man to return to Valley Parade last summer, particularly seeing as we were a fourth tier outfit. As such, it would have been puzzling to see him leave after we had achieved a promotion. Having initially made a name for himself as a right back during his first spell with us back in 2006, Doyle went on to become a much sought after utility player at Championship and League One level, and his quality is certainly far above that which we were playing at last season.
The 2006/07 player of the year formed a superb midfield pairing with Gary Jones last season. The versatility and attacking prowess of the partnership was questioned at times, but it is hard to argue against the fact that, individually, they were two of the best players over the historic campaign.
Although Doyle’s form dipped after our first visit to Wembley in February, he came back into the fold to play a pivotal role in the play off victories over Burton and Northampton – arguably being crucial in turning the semi final tie on its head. Having been a mainstay of the team – he had even played in defence during the JPT games – it was probably the case that he simply needed a rest before coming back with his batteries fully recharged.
During his time out of the team, City’s number 24 was replaced by club captain Ricky Ravenhill, who also impressed in the closing stages of the league campaign. Both of these players will be fighting for a place in the City engine room with Jones and new signing Jason Kennedy. There is also a belief within the club that Scott Brown is progressing well, so next season we could have an embarrassment of riches in midfield as well as in defence.
With both McHugh and Doyle committing themselves to the Bantams family for another year, the only member of last season squad whose future remains in doubt is Will Atkinson.
Jason note: Just as we hit the publish button on this story, news broke that heavy rumours of Mark Yeates signing for Bradford City had been confirmed.
The 28-year-old Irish under-21 international began his career at Tottenham and completed numerous loan spells, before establishing himself under Phil Parkinson at Colchester United – a season long loan move made permanent. In 2009 Yeates was signed by Middlesbrough for £500k but was a victim of a change of manager and moved to Sheffield United. Yates signed for Watford in 2011 and made 62 appearances over two seasons, netting seven goals.