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Aaron Hughes: Reaching century for Northern Ireland 'special'

Defender delighted to see the good times roll for NI

By Michael Church

Published 03/06/2016

Ton up: Aaron Hughes’ Northern Ireland career is set to come full circle as he is likely to win his 100th cap against Slovakia, who he made his debut against in 1998
Ton up: Aaron Hughes’ Northern Ireland career is set to come full circle as he is likely to win his 100th cap against Slovakia, who he made his debut against in 1998

Aaron Hughes stands on the verge of history as he prepares to make his 100th appearance for Northern Ireland, but for the veteran central defender there will be as much relief as joy when he finally completes his century of caps.

Hughes is set to become the first outfield player in history to play 100 times for Northern Ireland and he could join goalkeeping legend Pat Jennings as the only other player to have reached three figures when Michael O'Neill's team take on Slovakia in Trnava in tomorrow's final pre-Euro 2016 friendly.

More: 100 up... this all-time great has oozed class every step of the way

"It's been coming close for a while now, it's just sort of getting there," said the 36-year-old central defender, who made his 99th appearance as a substitute in the 3-0 win over Belarus in Northern Ireland's send-off game at Windsor Park last Friday evening.

"I try not to think about it and I just try to get on with it. It's been creeping into my head now and again and I get asked about it quite a lot too.

"If it happens, I'll be extremely proud but maybe a little bit relieved too. The emotion will be an immense sense of pride that I was able to achieve it. At this time, when it's such a fantastic time for the team and everything, it's quite a nice time to get it as well."

Hughes  made his debut against Slovakia on March 25, 1998 and should he pick up his 100th cap tomorrow it would add a sense of symmetry to a career that has seen numerous highs and lows for the Cookstown native.

More: Don't take glory for granted, says Aaron as NI hit ranking high

"From being around the squad for so long and playing in the bad days as well as the good days, it does resonate, but now we're in a consistent period of good times," said Hughes.

"Before, we had some great results that popped out here and there, but ultimately the campaigns didn't amount to anything and then we went through periods when we didn't score goals. Those were the really dark days.

The Northern Ireland football squad with manager Michael ONeill before leaving for the Euro Finals.
The Northern Ireland football squad with manager Michael ONeill before leaving for the Euro Finals.
Michael McGovern. Age: 31 Position: Goalkeeper Caps: 10 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Like a fine wine, Enniskillen man Michael is improving with age. Experience of Euro 2016 will make him even better.
Roy Carroll Age: 38 Position: Goalkeeper Caps: 44 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: I’ve known Roy since he was a kid. Brilliant guy and a top goalkeeper. Now the Windsor penalty king, he is great for team morale.
Alan Mannus Age: 34 Position: Goalkeeper Caps: 8 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Third choice he may be, but if called upon, as he showed versus Belarus on Friday night, Alan won’t let the side down.
Craig Cathcart Age: 27 Position: Defender Caps: 27 Goals: 2 Beacom’s verdict: Has established himself as a quality Premier League defender and international. Vital to Northern Ireland now.
Jonny Evans Age: 28 Position: Defender Caps: 48 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Has the ability to have a big tournament and show why Manchester United should never have sold him.
Gareth McAuley Age: 36 Position: Defender Caps: 60 Goals: 7 Beacom’s verdict: Big G has become a huge favourite with the fans and rightly so. Huge influence and dangerous at set-pieces.
Luke McCullough Age: 22 Position: Defender Caps: 5 Goals: 0 Verdict: May not feature in France, but has an important part to play in training and be ready if required. Can learn much from likes of McAuley.
Conor McLaughlin Age: 24 Position: Defender Caps: 17 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Conor has been magnificent since being a surprise choice in the first Euro qualifier. Will relish shining in France.
Lee Hodson Age: 24 Position: Defender Caps: 15 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Clearly impressed manager Michael O’Neill in training to make the trip. Steady performer. Could get some game time.
Aaron Hughes Age: 36 Position: Defender Caps: 99 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Aaron is a Northern Ireland legend. Even when the team struggled he was Mr Consistency. Delighted he is going to the finals.
Paddy McNair Age: 21 Position: Defender Caps: 8 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Looks like a seasoned international when he plays in the holding midfield role for his country. Could be a key player in France.
Chris Baird Age: 34 Position: Defender Caps: 77 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: Another brilliant servant. His vast experience will be needed on and off the pitch. Reliable when the going gets tough.
Steven Davis Age: 31 Position: Midfielder Caps: 82 Goals: 8 Beacom’s verdict: In my view Steven has become one of Northern Ireland’s greatest ever footballers. What a player. And a superb captain too.
Oliver Norwood Age: 25 Position: Midfielder Caps: 33 Goals: 0 Beacom’s verdict: How this man has grown under Michael O’Neill. Now an outstanding international and so crucial to how the team plays.
Corry Evans Age: 25 Position: Midfielder Caps: 33 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Works his socks off for the team no matter where he is asked to play. Could be a key substitute in group games.
Jamie Ward Age: 30 Position: Midfielder Caps: 21 Goals: 2 Beacom’s verdict: With his energy, this livewire often sets the tone early on for Northern Ireland. Underestimate him at your peril.
Stuart Dallas Age: 25 Position: Midfielder Caps: 13 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Like a few in this squad has flourished under the manager. Seems inspired every time he puts on a Northern Ireland shirt.
Niall McGinn Age: 28 Position: Midfielder Caps: 42 Goals: 2 Beacom’s verdict: Showed against Belarus he can make a big impact off the bench. That will be his important role at the Euros.
Shane Ferguson Age: 24 Position: Midfielder Caps: 24 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Has a lovely left foot and an ability to whip in dangerous crosses. Like a few here will be useful off the bench.
Will Grigg Age: 24 Position: Forward Caps: 8 Goals: 1 Beacom’s verdict: Forget the song for a second, if given the chance this guy can be a hit at Euro 2016 because he is a clinical finisher.
Kyle Lafferty Age: 28 Position: Forward Caps: 50 Goals: 17 Beacom’s verdict: Northern Ireland’s main man in attack. Inspirational and influential, Kyle has what it takes to be a star in France.
Conor Washington Age: 24 Position: Forward Caps: 3 Goals: 2 Beacom’s verdict: Sure to get game time at the finals, he could be a surprise element for the team. Certainly won’t be overawed.
Michael O’Neill Age: 46 Position: Manager Verdict: Michael is the manager with the Midas touch. It will take something special for Northern Ireland to make the knockout stages, but with this man in charge anything is possible.

"So to have this happen now, and not only have us winning games and to genuinely have the chance to qualify for tournaments, it's just fantastic. It's a great period for football in Northern Ireland regardless and to have the possibility of getting to 100 is special for me."

Qualification for Euro 2016 at the tail end of his career has been a significant bonus for Hughes, who currently has no club after being released at the end of April by Australian side Melbourne City.

More: Luke McCullough: I'd be cheering NI from stands had I missed cut

But while that success has come at the latter stages of his time with Northern Ireland, there have been high points along the way.

"The big wins against England and Spain and nights like that stand out for obvious reasons," he said of those famous Windsor Park victories.

"Scoring my first and only goal stands out, my debut too, although not so much the game but I remember little things here and there.

"Getting the captaincy, too, that stands out. They're not bad moments to look back on."

While Hughes will be centre stage when he does pick up his 100th cap for Northern Ireland, the impending trip to France and the down-to-earth nature of his family has ensured he has kept both feet firmly on the ground.

"My family haven't really said much about it because I don't really speak about it a lot and because with the Euros it's such an exciting time and that takes precedent," he added.

George Best Belfast City Airport provide a water cannon spray as members of the Northern Ireland football squad join Manager Michael O'Neill as they leave Northern Ireland to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
George Best Belfast City Airport provide a water cannon spray as members of the Northern Ireland football squad join Manager Michael O'Neill as they leave Northern Ireland to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's captain Steven Davis pictured with airline captain Vladimir Korosec as they leave from George Best Belfast City Airport to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Members of the Northern Ireland football squad join Manager Michael OÕNeill and Captain Steve Davis as they leave Northern Ireland from George Best Belfast City Airport to take part in a training camp in Austria before the 2016 Euros. Picture By: Arthur Allison. Pacemaker Press Belfast: Monday 30th May 2016:
Northern Ireland players pictured as they leave from George Best Belfast City Airport to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland players pictured as they leave from George Best Belfast City Airport to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty pictured as they leave from George Best Belfast City Airport to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Paddy McNair pictured as they leave from George Best Belfast City Airport to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Roy Carroll pictured as they leave from George Best Belfast City Airport to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Northern Ireland's Aaron Hughes pictured as they leave from George Best Belfast City Airport to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Members of the Northern Ireland football squad join Manager Michael OÕNeill and Captain Steve Davis as they leave Northern Ireland from George Best Belfast City Airport to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2016 - Jamie Ward with members of the Northern Ireland football squad as they leave Northern Ireland from George Best Belfast City Airport to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2016 - Members of the Northern Ireland football squad join Manager Michael OÕNeill and Captain Steve Davis as they leave Northern Ireland from George Best Belfast City Airport to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2016 - Members of the Northern Ireland football squad join Manager Michael OÕNeill and Captain Steve Davis as they leave Northern Ireland from George Best Belfast City Airport to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2016 - Manager Michael O'Neill leaves Northern Ireland from George Best Belfast City Airport to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2016 - Members of the Northern Ireland football squad leave Northern Ireland from George Best Belfast City Airport to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2016 - Members of the Northern Ireland football squad join Manager Michael OÕNeill and Captain Steve Davis as they leave Northern Ireland from George Best Belfast City Airport to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2016 - Manager Michael OÕNeill leaves Northern Ireland from George Best Belfast City Airport to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Members of the Northern Ireland football squad join Manager Michael O'Neill as they leave Northern Ireland from George Best Belfast City Airport to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Members of the Northern Ireland football squad join Manager Michael OÕNeill and Captain Steve Davis as they leave Northern Ireland from George Best Belfast City Airport to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Members of the Northern Ireland football squad join Manager Michael O'Neill as they leave the Culloden Hotel to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Members of the Northern Ireland football squad join Manager Michael O'Neill as they leave the Culloden Hotel to take part in a training camp in Austria in advance of the 2016 Euros. Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 30th May 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Fans watch manager Michael O'Neill making the squad announcement. Photo: Kelvin Boyes
IFA Squad announcement at Titanic Belfast. Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Manager Michael O'Neil making the squad announcement. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 28th May 2016 - Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye. IFA Squad announcement at Titanic Belfast. In what is being hailed as one of the most significant events in local sporting history, Northern Ireland have qualified for UEFA Euro 2016 due to take place in France next month. Manager Michael OÕNeil is pictured making the squad announcement.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 28th May 2016 - Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye. IFA Squad announcement at Titanic Belfast. In what is being hailed as one of the most significant events in local sporting history, Northern Ireland have qualified for UEFA Euro 2016 due to take place in France next month. Manager Michael OÕNeil is pictured making the squad announcement.
PACEMAKER BELFAST 28/05/2016 Northern Ireland manager Michael ONeill announces his squad for Euro 2016 in France at Titanic Belfast this afternoon. Photo Mark Marlow/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 28/05/2016 Northern Ireland manager Michael ONeill announces his squad for Euro 2016 in France at Titanic Belfast this afternoon. Photo Mark Marlow/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 28/05/2016 Northern Ireland manager Michael ONeill announces his squad for Euro 2016 in France at Titanic Belfast this afternoon. Pictured is Colin Murray. Photo Mark Marlow/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 28/05/2016 Northern Ireland manager Michael ONeill announces his squad for Euro 2016 in France at Titanic Belfast this afternoon. Pictured are Northern Ireland legends Peter McParland, Pat Genninings and Billy Hamilton. Photo Mark Marlow/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER BELFAST 28/05/2016 Northern Ireland manager Michael ONeill announces his squad for Euro 2016 in France at Titanic Belfast this afternoon. Pictured is Colin Murray. Photo Mark Marlow/Pacemaker Press
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 28th May 2016 - Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye. IFA Squad announcement at Titanic Belfast. In what is being hailed as one of the most significant events in local sporting history, Northern Ireland have qualified for UEFA Euro 2016 due to take place in France next month. Manager Michael OÕNeil is pictured making the squad announcement.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 28th May 2016 - Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye. IFA Squad announcement at Titanic Belfast. In what is being hailed as one of the most significant events in local sporting history, Northern Ireland have qualified for UEFA Euro 2016 due to take place in France next month. Manager Michael OÕNeil.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 28th May 2016 - Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye. IFA Squad announcement at Titanic Belfast. In what is being hailed as one of the most significant events in local sporting history, Northern Ireland have qualified for UEFA Euro 2016 due to take place in France next month. Fans watch Manager Michael OÕNeil making the squad announcement.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 28th May 2016 - Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye. IFA Squad announcement at Titanic Belfast. In what is being hailed as one of the most significant events in local sporting history, Northern Ireland have qualified for UEFA Euro 2016 due to take place in France next month. Fans watch Manager Michael OÕNeil making the squad announcement.
IFA Squad announcement at Titanic Belfast. Manager Michael O'Neill is pictured making the squad announcement. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 28th May 2016 - Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye. IFA Squad announcement at Titanic Belfast. In what is being hailed as one of the most significant events in local sporting history, Northern Ireland have qualified for UEFA Euro 2016 due to take place in France next month. Manager Michael OÕNeil is pictured with his family before making the squad announcement.
Northern Ireland football legends Peter McParland, Pat Jennings and Billy Hamilton at the squad announcement. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.
Northern Ireland fans display a banner before the International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. Pic Niall Carson
Will Grigg. Pic kevin Scott
Matthew,Chris,Robyn and Richard Knox from Lisburn watching Northern Ireland and Belarus during Friday night's Vauxhall Friendly International match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th May 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Sports Minister Paul Givan MLA pictured at the National Stadium, Windsor Park with Northern Ireland President Jim Shaw. The Minister wished the Northern Ireland team every success as they continue their preparations for the European Championship Finals in France.
Northern Ireland's Conor Washington (left) celebrates with team-mate Kyle Lafferty (centre) after scoring his side's second goal during the International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 27, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, No commercial use without prior permission, please contact PA Images for further information: Tel: +44 (0) 115 8447447.
Northern Ireland's Stuart Dallas (left) and Belarus' Nikolai Yanush battle for the ball during the International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 27, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, No commercial use without prior permission, please contact PA Images for further information: Tel: +44 (0) 115 8447447.
Northern Ireland's Conor Washington (11) celebrates with his team-mates after scoring his side's second goal during the International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 27, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, No commercial use without prior permission, please contact PA Images for further information: Tel: +44 (0) 115 8447447.
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 27: Conor Washington (R) of Northern Ireland scores during the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 27: Conor Washington of Northern Ireland celebrates after scoring during the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 27: Conor Washington (R) of Northern Ireland scores during the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Conor Washington of Northern Ireland celebrates after scoring during the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 27: Conor Washington of Northern Ireland celebrates after scoring during the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 27: Conor Washington of Northern Ireland celebrates after scoring during the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 27: Conor Washington of Northern Ireland celebrates after scoring during the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 27: Conor Washington of Northern Ireland celebrates after scoring during the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Conor Washington of Northern Ireland celebrates after scoring during the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill during the International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 27, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, No commercial use without prior permission, please contact PA Images for further information: Tel: +44 (0) 115 8447447.
Belarus' Igor Shitov (left) and Northern Ireland's Stuart Dallas battle for the ball during the International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 27, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, No commercial use without prior permission, please contact PA Images for further information: Tel: +44 (0) 115 8447447.
Northern Ireland's fans celebrate the second goal against Belarus during an international friendly football match between Northern Ireland and Belarus at Windsor Park in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on May 27, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL FAITHPAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty rues a missed chance during the International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 27, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, No commercial use without prior permission, please contact PA Images for further information: Tel: +44 (0) 115 8447447.
Northern Ireland's Conor Washington (R) celebrates after scoring the team's second goal against Belarus during an international friendly football match between Northern Ireland and Belarus at Windsor Park in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on May 27, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL FAITHPAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Northern Ireland's Conor Washington celebrates after scoring the team's second goal against Belarus during an international friendly football match between Northern Ireland and Belarus at Windsor Park in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on May 27, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL FAITHPAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Northern Ireland's Conor Washington (left) and Belarus' Nikita Korzun battle for the ball during the International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 27, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, No commercial use without prior permission, please contact PA Images for further information: Tel: +44 (0) 115 8447447.
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 27: Kyle Lafferty of Northern Ireland celebrates after scoring during the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 27: Conor Washington (L) of Northern Ireland and Mikita Korzun (R) of Belarus during the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands Paddy McNair and Belarus' Siarhei Krivets in action during the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands Amy and Callum Lister from Belfast in action during the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands Score 1-0 vs Belarus in action during the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands Score 1-0 vs Belarus in action during the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands Roy Carroll celebrating in action during the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands Roy Carroll celebrating in action during the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands XXX and Belarus' YYY in action during the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands XXX and Belarus' YYY in action during the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Pacemaker Belfast 27-5-16 Northern Ireland v Belarus - International Friendly Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty celebrates his goal during tonight's game at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 27-5-16 Northern Ireland v Belarus - International Friendly Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty celebrates his goal during tonight's game at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 27-5-16 Northern Ireland v Belarus - International Friendly Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty celebrates his goal during tonight's game at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 27-5-16 Northern Ireland v Belarus - International Friendly Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty celebrates his goal during tonight's game at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 27-5-16 Northern Ireland v Belarus - International Friendly Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty celebrates his goal during tonight's game at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 27-5-16 Northern Ireland v Belarus - International Friendly Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty celebrates his goal during tonight's game at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th May 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Sports Minister Paul Givan MLA pictured at the National Stadium, Windsor Park with Northern Ireland President Jim Shaw. The Minister wished the Northern Ireland team every success as they continue their preparations for the European Championship Finals in France.
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands Luke McCullough and Belarus' Siarhei Kisliak in action during the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
PACEMAKER BELFAST 27/05/2016 Northern Ireland v Belarus Friendly International Belarus fan during this evenings Friendly International at Windsor park. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 27-5-16 Northern Ireland v Belarus - International Friendly Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty and Belarus Alyaksandr Martynovich (Captain) during tonight's game at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 27-5-16 Northern Ireland v Belarus - International Friendly Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty and Belarus Egor Filipenko during tonight's game at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 27-5-16 Northern Ireland v Belarus - International Friendly Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty and Belarus Egor Filipenko during tonight's game at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 27-5-16 Northern Ireland v Belarus - International Friendly Northern Ireland's Paddy McNair during tonight's game at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Pacemaker Belfast 27-5-16 Northern Ireland v Belarus - International Friendly Northern Ireland's Paddy McNair during tonight's game at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 27th May 2016 Mandatory Credit -Brian Little/Presseye Northern Ireland Kyle Lafferty scores a goal past Belarus goal keeper Andrei Harbunov during Friday night's Vauxhall Friendly International match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 27th May 2016 Mandatory Credit -Brian Little/Presseye Northern Ireland Stuart Dallas and Belarus Mikhail Hardzeichuk during Friday night's Vauxhall Friendly International match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 27th May 2016 Mandatory Credit -Brian Little/Presseye Northern Ireland Stuart Dallas and Belarus Ihar Shitau during Friday night's Vauxhall Friendly International match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 27th May 2016 Mandatory Credit -Brian Little/Presseye Northern Ireland Steven Davis and Belarus Nikita Korzun during Friday night's Vauxhall Friendly International match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 27th May 2016 Mandatory Credit -Brian Little/Presseye Northern Ireland Chris Baird and Belarus Maksim Valadzko during Friday night's Vauxhall Friendly International match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands Roy Carroll in action during the friendly between Northern Ireland and Belarus as the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 27th May 2016 Mandatory Credit -Brian Little/Presseye Northern Ireland Kyle Lafferty challenged by Belarus Ihar Shitau and Mikhail Hardzeichuk during Friday night's Vauxhall Friendly International match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands Roy Carroll in action during the friendly between Northern Ireland and Belarus as the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th May 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Sports Minister Paul Givan MLA pictured at the National Stadium, Windsor Park with Northern Ireland Legends Pat Jennings and Sammy McIlroy. The Minister wished the Northern Ireland team every success as they continue their preparations for the European Championship Finals in France.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th May 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Sports Minister Paul Givan MLA pictured at the National Stadium, Windsor Park with Northern Ireland Legend Pat Jennings. The Minister wished the Northern Ireland team every success as they continue their preparations for the European Championship Finals in France.
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th May 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Sports Minister Paul Givan MLA pictured at the National Stadium, Windsor Park with Northern Ireland Legends Pat Jennings and Sammy McIlroy. The Minister wished the Northern Ireland team every success as they continue their preparations for the European Championship Finals in France.
Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty celebrates his goal during tonight's game at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands Windsor Park in action during the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands Windsor Park in action during the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands Amy and Callum Lister from Belfast in action during the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands Andy and Micky Longstaff from Crumlin in action during the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th May 2016 Vauxhall International Challenge Match Northern Ireland Vs Belarus at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park, Belfast. Left to right. Flag bearers Sara Lockhead, Benjamin Jackson and Jody Burns. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands Windsor Park in action during the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands Heather and Keith Cassell with Kate Turner in action during the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands Simon and Martin Thompson with Jeff Patterson in action during the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 27th May 2016 Vauxhall International Challenge Match Northern Ireland Vs Belarus at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park, Belfast. Left to right. Flag bearers Jody Burns, Alex Corr, Sara Lockhead and Benjamin Jackson Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands Graeme Beggs and family in action during the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
Picture - Kevin Scott / Presseye Belfast , UK - May 27, Pictured is Northern Irelands David and Adam Orr in action during the last home game before heading to the Euros on May 27 2016 in Belfast , Northern Ireland ( Photo by Kevin Scott / Presseye)
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 27th May 2016 Mandatory Credit -Brian Little/Presseye George Emerson with his son Cameron aged 14 from Bangor watching Northern Ireland and Belarus during Friday night's Vauxhall Friendly International match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 27th May 2016 Mandatory Credit -Brian Little/Presseye Jennifer Simpson and Kathleen Graham from Newtownabbey watching Northern Ireland and Belarus during Friday night's Vauxhall Friendly International match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
@Press Eye Ltd Northern Ireland- 27th May 2016 Mandatory Credit -Brian Little/Presseye Darren Hamill and son Scott, aged 10, from Lisburn watching Northern Ireland and Belarus during Friday night's Vauxhall Friendly International match at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Picture by Brian Little/Presseye
A Northern Ireland fan in the stands before the International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 27, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, No commercial use without prior permission, please contact PA Images for further information: Tel: +44 (0) 115 8447447.
A Northern Ireland fan in the stands before the International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 27, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, No commercial use without prior permission, please contact PA Images for further information: Tel: +44 (0) 115 8447447.
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 27: A Northern Ireland fan poses with a green beret before the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Northern Ireland fans in the stands before the International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 27, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, No commercial use without prior permission, please contact PA Images for further information: Tel: +44 (0) 115 8447447.
Northern Ireland fans in the stands before the International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 27, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, No commercial use without prior permission, please contact PA Images for further information: Tel: +44 (0) 115 8447447.
Northern Ireland's Chris Baird before the International Friendly at Windsor Park, Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 27, 2016. See PA story SOCCER N Ireland. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, No commercial use without prior permission, please contact PA Images for further information: Tel: +44 (0) 115 8447447.
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 27: Northern Ireland's Paddy McNair high-fives some fans before the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 27: Northern Ireland's Paddy McNair high-fives some fans before the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 27: Belarus players take a stroll on the pitch before the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 27: Northern Ireland players pictured before the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 27: Northern Ireland's Kyle Lafferty (L) and Stuart Dallas (R) pose with fans before the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 27: Belarus players take a stroll on the pitch before the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MAY 27: Northern Ireland players pictured before the international friendly game between Northern Ireland and Belarus on May 26, 2016 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

"Nothing has greatly been said but I'm sure they'll be very proud, they're proud of what I've done so far and they've followed me throughout and supported me the whole time."

Belfast Telegraph

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