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A whole new world for Mark Hughes

Walsall | Sport | Published:

Forget Great Wyrley - Walsall's departing captain Mark Hughes has the Great Barrier Reef.

Forget Great Wyrley - Walsall's departing captain Mark Hughes has the Great Barrier Reef.

When the former skipper wakes up in Townsville tomorrow he will be greeted by one of the biggest natural wonders of the world.

From the Saddlers to the coral of Australia's east coast in one quick step – one does well to hide the jealousy.

Exciting, intriguing – certainly daunting – Hughes' leap of faith to join North Queensland Fury last week caught everyone out.

A contract on the table at Walsall, the captain made a late decision to leave once the A-League outfit stepped up their interest.

At 23 he has nothing to lose. No ties in England – apart from a recently purchased house on Merseyside – no kids and no worries.

As an outgoing Scouser, Hughes isn't one to shy away from a challenge – and you don't get one much bigger than moving 9,572 miles away from home.

His sense of adventure prompted him to gamble and, a week in to his Australian adventure, he hasn't changed his mind.

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He said: "I've done it to open a few doors. That's the biggest reason I've come out here. People will question it, but if I enjoy it maybe it will give me opportunities I didn't know I had.

"If I play well then I'll get recognised. I know a few boys have been here and then gone on to play in Asia. I'm not saying I'm looking to go and do that but maybe one day, who knows?

"I know David Carney, who I played with at Everton, he came back out here, then got a move to Sheffield United and is now at FC Twente. It's an exciting chapter in my life and I'm not looking back.

"I just couldn't ignore it and wonder 'what if'. At least I've done it to say I can regret it."

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But from the first impressions, what is there to regret?

The only snag being the defender is yet to see what the A-League is like.

Fury kick off their campaign on August 6 against Perth Glory – Robbie Fowler's current employers – but until then Hughes must rely on the advice of others.

He said: "To be honest I've never even seen an A-League game in my life. I played with Chris Doig at Northampton and I called him a few times, as he's out here now at Central Coast Mariners to ask what the standard was like.

"Chris told me, 'Hughesy, some days it feels like you're playing a Conference team and on others you're against a Championship side.'

"It's hot here so people don't want to run about so it's a little bit more patient."

But despite being a foreign import, the former skipper is reminded of home by new team-mate Gareth Edds, the former Tranmere man who signed at the same time.

Hughes explained: "We played him twice last season and he's a good lad. He used to live right on the water in Liverpool so despite the fact he's Australian, he's got this Scouse twang.

"To be fair though everyone is friendly and the manager (former Czech Republic boss Franz Straka) knows we need to get used to everything, so we've only done a bit of jogging so far.

"But I'm still getting used to the time. I keep on going to bed at 8pm and then waking up at 6am.

"It will take a little while."

Hughes is unlikely to feature in Fury's first pre-season game against Queensland State League side Whitsunday Miners tomorrow as he is still settling in, having only arrived a week ago.

He said: "Pre-season training started in the first week of June here, so I'm a few weeks behind the rest of the lads but I've got until August 6 to catch up.

"Training is a bit different, it's not all 100 miles an hour. It's a little bit more relaxed while you've got the ball in your own half and then it gets quicker when you get to the 18-yard box.

"Towards Christmas we're going to be training at 7am because it's going to be too hot to do it during the day – that's going to be a shock but I've just got to get used to it."

Though Hughes, who scored once in 28 appearances for Walsall, is still sheepish about his exit from the Banks's Stadium.

A one-year contract – with the option of a further 12 months – was agreed before Fury arrived on the scene.

Staunchly loyal he would hate to let anyone down and, although only there for a year, the centre-back from Kirkby speaks fondly about his former club.

He said: "I'll miss Walsall because it's a great club with a great set-up – and I'll miss our car pool.

"I used to drive down to Crewe and then get a lift with Clayton Ince, Steve Jones, Dwayne Mattis and Clayton McDonald.

"We used to have a bit of a laugh and some good banter – I'll miss that."

But one quick look out the window and the doubts evaporate.

He said: "The population here is only about 180,000 there are loads of nice restaurants, bars and beaches. It's not a holiday but it's a holiday mood – it's so much more relaxed.

"I'm getting an apartment right on the bench, there's public BBQs on the street where people can just come down and bring their own meat.

"It's slightly different to the M6."

By Nick Mashiter

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