Bradford City goalscorers Carl McHugh (left) and Rory McArdle celebrate
Bradford City goalscorers Carl McHugh (left) and Rory McArdle celebrate

RORY McArdle has never been a household name, but his is one Aston Villa fans are certainly familiar with.

The Bradford City defender scored the second of three goals agains the Villans in the Capital One Cup, and inevitably, has since been inundated with messages of congratulations.

But there’s still the semi-final’s second leg to tackle at Villa Park, and the endless replays on Sky Sports News can distract from the task in hand.

For the Northern Ireland international, there’s only one remedy; the unrivalled sense of isolation on a golf course.

“I just went for a walk the day after the game on my local course, trying to just empty my head of it all.

“It was great, of course, but only half the job is done now and we need to stay focused.

“I did enjoy hearing from people I’d not spoken with in years though, that was definitely an upside.”

McArdle can hardly blame any lack of a consistent platform in League Two to showcase his skills; the 25-year old is the most active player in England, having played more minutes than any other footballer.

Add to that a goal against Premier League opposition and you have the makings of what could be the season of his career.

Scoring against a side which sits 60 league places higher in the division pyramid is fortuitous enough, but when you’re a central defender, the pleasure is only magnified.

“I don’t find myself in a lot of goal-scoring positions so it was especially good, but we created so many chances in that game.

“My goal, as with all of ours, came from set play. A corner, which was then cut back and out wide, which I just got myself in the right place for.

“Villa are still favourites for the final, though.

“They still have a lot of quality and it probably suits us a lot better. They will want to have a real go.

“They have more attacking options but we will create chances rather than sitting back, so the game should be quite open.”

When it comes to his international game, McArdle is suitably level-headed, recognising that while he can produce a key cup memory, it will take a lot more to edge into Michael O’Neill’s back line.

The Northern Ireland boss has praised McArdle’s performances but, given the competition for places in defence, has not suggested he will be part of immediate plans.

Nevertheless, O’Neill’s admiration of McArdle’s positive attitude has marked him out as one for the future.

“We have Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley, Aaron Hughes and Chris Baird who are all playing in the top flight and Chris Baird can also play in the centre of defence,” said the international manager.

“Craig Cathcart is also playing in the Championship and has done very well so Rory is unfortunate but I certainly wouldn’t rule him out.

“It is great to have a Northern Ireland international playing in these types of games, however, and we will definitely have him watched again.

“If I can make it to the semi-final first of second-leg then I will have someone there to see how he does.

“I’m not in a position to rule Rory or any other player out of my plans just because of where he plays his club football.

“I also watched Rory a lot last year when he was at Aberdeen and Craig Brown also spoke very highly of his attitude and commitment.”

McArdle, meanwhile, is showing patience when it comes to his international career.

Responding to O’Neill’s comments, he said: “It’s nice that he recognises those players who are not always in the squad consistently.

“It is a nice way of him keeping everyone involved.

“When it comes to me, however, it is not really a strange situation. Unless Northern Ireland are hit by suspensions or injuries, realistically I won’t be in the starting line up and whether I am in the squad will be touch and go.

“There are top quality options in defence, it’s one of the strongest parts of the team. Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley and Aaron Hughes for instance are all doing really well for Northern Ireland and respectively at their clubs.

“I know that’s how it is but if I am called up I am more than happy to go, and if that’s just to train then that’s that.

“If you start thinking or worrying about it too much you will end up with it playing on your mind. As long as everything is good at the club I would like to be a bit higher in the league, but if it’s a friendly, it’s a friendly.”