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Defender Aaron Hughes hoping Hearts switch will extend Northern Ireland career

Aaron Hughes hopes his move to Hearts will help prolong his Northern Ireland career.

New Jambos boss Ian Cathro has made the veteran centre-half and former Hamilton left-back Lennard Sowah his first two signings after handing both men deals to the end of the season.

Hughes, 37, is Northern Ireland's most capped player having made 104 appearances for Michael O'Neill's side.

He starred for his country during their run to the Euro 2016 second round and made his last appearance against world champions Germany while playing his club football with Indian Super League outfit Kerala Blasters.

But the former Newcastle, Aston Villa and Fulham defender believes he needs to be playing at a higher standard every week if he is to continue to feature in international football.

Hughes told HeartsTV: "With the current World Cup campaign, I was hoping to come back and play at a level that is going to help keep me involved with the national team.

"That was the idea about coming back to the UK.

"Hopefully if I can play and do well, that will keep me consistent and enable me to stay involved with Northern Ireland too."

Hughes will link up with O'Neill's former assistant Austin MacPhee, now number two to Cathro at Hearts, after securing his move to Edinburgh.

"Austin was the first point of contact," he revealed. "When he first mentioned it was certainly something I was interested in. It's gone back and forward for a couple of weeks but I'm delighted to have finally got it signed."

Hughes will take former Hearts skipper Alim Ozturk's place in Cathro's squad after he was allowed to depart Tynecastle.

The 24-year-old negotiated his release from the Jambos over the weekend and has now signed an 18-month deal with Turkish second-tier side Boluspor.

Ozturk helped Hearts storm to the Ladbrokes Championship title during his first season at the club and then captained the side as they finished third on their return to the top-flight.

But he has rarely featured this term, with John Souttar and Igor Rossi so far being preferred at the heart of the Gorgie defence.

Former Portsmouth youngster Sowah, meanwhile, clinched his move to Tynecastle just days after quitting Accies.

The 24-year-old came through the ranks at the Fratton Park and made a handful of Premier League appearances before spells with Hamburg in Germany and Danish side Vestsjaelland, arriving at Hamilton on a short-term deal in October.

Sowah played seven times for Martin Canning's side but left last week after his Accies deal expired.

And he is already eyeing a long-term stay at Tynecastle, telling Hearts TV: "That is definitely the aim.

"I've felt right at home in Scotland. I've played in the UK before down in England and I love the passion they have here.

"It wasn't such an easy decision to come to Hearts because I'd only played three months at Hamilton. But when I got the offer I was really excited about it.

"I think it's the right decision to sign for Hearts."

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