THE FINAL whistle at Wembley on Saturday was likely to have proved particularly poignant for Josh Cullen.
The Bradford City loanee, a class act again in his second season at the club, dejectedly trudged off the pitch following a cruel late loss to Millwall in a sad end to his footballing journey with the Bantams.
Having proved himself in League One during two highly-impressive loan spells, the West Ham midfielder now has his sights set on propelling himself into the first-team picture with the Hammers in 2017-18 – or on continuing his career development in the Championship in a third loan.
Either way, Saturday’s events mean that it is unlikely that he will don the claret-and-amber jersey again, any time soon. But his gratitude for his time at City is heartfelt and considerable.
Cullen, 21, told The Yorkshire Post: “The whole process of me coming out on loan is to try and get in West Ham’s first team. I am still in a position to do that when I go back in the summer in pre-season. We will have the discussions and see what needs to be done.
“Hopefully, I will be in West Ham’s plans. But if not, then a Championship club is probably the next step for me. There are discussions to be had and we will see where we go.
“I could not have really wished for a better club to come on loan to. It (Bradford) is a really great club with great people and I wanted to come back for a second spell to try and get us promoted. We have got one step closer than last year, but just come up short again.
“It is a club I really felt the passion to play for. It is a tough one to take and we will have to come again.”
On his sense of personal disappointment, Cullen, watched from the stands by a number of family members and friends who made the short trip from Essex to cheer him on, added: “I had a lot of family and friends here and my girlfriend and everyone has been brilliant to me because it has been a tough time; the first time I have been away from home for a permanent period of time.
“It was nice to have them at the final and I would have loved to have won it for them as well as ourselves. We have come up a bit short.”
Saturday may have represented the end of Cullen’s Bantams’ story, for the time being at any rate, but the schemer believes that the club have every chance of going that one step further next season by securing a cherished promotion back to the second tier after two near-misses.
His belief is fortified by the sight of a Bradford squad coming together in outstanding fashion after some early-summer upheaval following the exit of Phil Parkinson.
Cullen added: “After the end of last season, there was an overhaul of staff and players and I think there were only nine or 10 players left in the squad.
“To build a new squad together and go as far as we have done is a pleasing achievement. The expectations at the start of the season have probably been exceeded. Next season, I am sure the lads will go again and give it a great shout.
“Everyone has got to move on now and I’ve got to in my career. All the lads will bring the club forward, I am sure.
“It will be another tough season. It is such a disappointment as it’s such a long season and you work so hard to get here and are 90 minutes away from getting promoted. But with the quality and togetherness in that dressing room, I am sure the lads will be right up there.”