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Interviews

INTERVIEW: That 3 o'clock feeling is why I carried on

Paul Huntington on 500 career appearances and play-off success

26 May 2023

Interviews

INTERVIEW: That 3 o'clock feeling is why I carried on

Paul Huntington on 500 career appearances and play-off success

26 May 2023

Defender Paul Huntington has been an absolute rock for the Blues this season, with two goals from 44 appearances just part of the story to what has been a very consistent and important campaign.

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The 35-year-old is already confirmed as a United player for at least another season, and he’ll be making career appearance number 510 on Sunday (if selected), having reached that significant milestone at the beginning of April.

“That was something I’d kind of kept an eye on from the back end of the season before last, but I didn’t really play last year, so it was sort of on hold,” he told us. “I think Saturday was my 44th game this season and I’ve enjoyed being back playing.

“When I signed it was kind of why I played on, for that feeling we had the other day at the final whistle. It’s the 3 o’clock feeling as well, of having a game to look forward to.

“You want that window of maybe 10 or 15 minutes with your teammates when the music is on and you know you’re going to have a good night when you go home to your family because you’re on a high from winning.

“I saw my daughter in the Players’ Lounge after the Bradford home game and that kind of set me off. Seeing Ben [Barclay] upset set me off a little bit as well, I’m maybe not an emotional guy but the older I’ve got, it means I could kind of relate to it more.

“At the same time when we were celebrating I kind of thought I needed to go in and shake the Bradford player’s hands because I’ve been there and I know how it feels. It was obviously very quiet, but they took it really well to be fair to them.

“I knew a few of their players through playing against them over the years, and their staff were really complimentary and they told me that they hoped we’d do it, and they wished us luck.

“Yeah, just seeing my daughter’s face after the game and being together with the lads, a group that you spend a lot of time with, it meant a lot. At the same time, it will be even greater if we can do it again on Sunday.”

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Bringing him back to the matter at hand, we wondered if there was a sense of pride at having hit the 500 marker.

“It’s kind of hard when you’re still in it,” he admitted. “Last summer I wasn’t sure whether or not that was me done and finished.

“I wondered if me not playing last season was telling me that you’re kind of slowing down or you’re not up to it any more. That was hard to get my head round, but since coming here I’ve found the enjoyment and the love for the game, which has been a big thing for me this season.

“Everyone asks me the same thing, if I’m still enjoying it, and all I keep saying is that I’ll enjoy it if we get up. That’s what I came here to do, and that would mean a lot.”

If that was achieved on Sunday it would, of course, mean that he’d be heading towards and through 550 appearances in League One.

“Like I say, it’s strange to think about these things because when you’re still playing you’re not really thinking about your career,” he told us.

“That’s probably something I’ll do further down the line. It sounds a lot, that 500 number, but then you compare it to someone like the manager, and he played over 800 games to a very good standard.

“He wasn’t playing for rubbish clubs, so when you compare it to that, there is no comparison. I know the game has changed but I want to play for as long as I can.

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“As long as I can do the job, and I’m not holding anyone back, or people are starting to ask me if I think it’s time - yeah, if that happens then I’ll probably know. At the moment I’m thinking that hopefully there’s another few years in me.”

Changing direction, we started to focus on what it means to have given ourselves a chance with having come out on top across two ties against Bradford.

“It’s brilliant,” he agreed. “I think Saturday was a day to remember really, and it was certainly the best that I’ve seen Brunton Park in the times that I’ve been or played here.

“It was a brilliant occasion and I thought it was brilliant how we handled it. I think that will stand us in good stead going into Sunday. I thought we deserved the win in the end.

“And we’ve shown that we can perform in games like that, which is important. I think maybe the first 20 or 25 minutes, I wouldn’t exactly say that you could tell that a lot of the lads hadn’t played in one of these before, but it is different to a normal league game.

“I think as the game grew we got stronger and we very much knew that we were still in the tie. We’d seen in the games in the nights before that one goal isn’t a lot to turn round.

“We started the home tie really well, and a lot of people I spoke to around town were saying that if we could get the first goal in 20 minutes, which I think we managed to do, it was bang on 20 minutes, then it would be there for us.

“I think their goalkeeper did well, he kept the score down, but we rose to the occasion and put on a brilliant performance. It was a really big effort from not just the team, but the supporters, the staff and everyone who was here.

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“It really felt like everyone was together and it was obviously a brilliant feeling after the game. I think there was a strong belief in the group that we would win the game. We didn’t know whether that would be 90 minutes, extra time or whatever.

“We were prepared for whatever outcome. It was a hot day, it took a lot out of us, and with added time I think we ended up playing nearly 140 minutes, but we got through it and obviously we came out of the right side of a really good team performance. Even the subs who came on affected the game, and that’s what you want.”

As well as handling the occasions was the way the players responded reacted to the setback of the Bradford equaliser right at the start of the second half of extra time.

“You’ve got to keep going, haven’t you, which we did, and we got the goal,” he said. “It was a brilliant ball in from Mox, we managed to sustain the attack, recycle it, and Barcs popped up with a brilliant header.

“Over the two legs, and even speaking to a few of their lads and staff after the game, they kind of acknowledged that we deserved to get through and they also wished us well, which I thought was good.

“I think the performances have been very good, we sort of responded to the occasion. We knew before the game that we needed to win and we were very much on the front foot and ready for it.

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“I think that showed and we got stronger again with the subs that came on, and I’m really pleased that we managed the occasion. The confidence we’ve built up is really good going into Sunday.

“I think mentally as much as anything we’ve handled the extra time, the heat and also the big crowds. Knowing we have that in the bank will definitely stand us in good stead for Sunday.”

Having mentioned Ben Barclay, and with him having been filmed during the post-match dressing room meeting consoling his fellow player, he spoke highly of the contribution that had been made not just in that game, but across the season.

“When the manager was saying things about Ben I think it kind of hit home,” he revealed. “Seeing him upset kind of upset me a little bit as well.

“When he’s been fit he’s done really well, and hopefully going forward he’s a player that will join the club. I know that the group feel like that about him.

“He’s popped up with a few important goals and he’s quite an intelligent footballer for a defender. He’s not just the head it, kick it type of defender, which a lot are in League Two. He can pick a pass.

“I know for sure that he’ll be willing us on. You’d think it would be a difficult situation but looking forward for his career he’ll be wanting us to go and do the business. He’ll be with us throughout the back end of the week going into the game.

“He’s got a big part to play and obviously he knows a lot about the opposition. We played them here at the back end of the season and we were maybe unfortunate not to win, we were a couple of minutes away, so we can take the positives out of that.

“It isn’t a normal game but we will approach it in the best way we can. We’ll be going for a look around Wembley, more for the lads who haven’t been before so they can get used to the surroundings.

“It is a different arena but we all have to look forward to it. I think that in the big games our big players turn up and come to the party, so I think there’s a lot of excitement, but at the same time we’re there to work, there’s a job to do, and we’re going there to win.”


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