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.”