Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football

Hughes returns for Northern Ireland

Michael O'Neill has named his first Northern Ireland squad, with former captain Aaron Hughes the standout name in a party of 24 having been persuaded to reverse his retirement.

O'Neill takes charge of the side for the first time on February 29 when Norway visit Windsor Park and he will have Fulham centre-back Hughes at his disposal less than six months after he announced his decision to end his international career at the end of the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.

Also back after lengthy absences are Burnley defender Michael Duff, who last featured in 2008, and Kilmarnock midfielder Dean Shiels.

O'Neill was full of praise for Hughes following the defender's decision to make himself available again. He said: "Getting Aaron in for this game wasn't a top priority, the top priority was having Aaron available in September for the start of the qualification games.

"But he made it clear that he wanted to be back in from the start. That is a testament to what Aaron is like as a character.

"Once we sat down and chatted about things he came back to me very quickly and said he wanted to be back and to be involved from the off. I gave him the option of some more time but he was committed and focused to be in as soon as possible.

"We have core of players with Northern Ireland who have performed admirably in recent years, they're a tight group and the loss of a player from that can cause damage - especially one as influential as Aaron. For him to reverse his decision and be available again is a big positive."

Hughes' Fulham team-mate Chris Baird, a veteran of 56 caps, was not in the squad but his club confirmed he was in training as normal.

As expected goalkeeper Maik Taylor, who captained against Italy in Nigel Worthington's last game in charge, has been left out in favour of Lee Camp, Alan Mannus and Michael McGovern, but the 40-year-old has no plans to announce his retirement and will remain available if required.

Wolves' 19-year-old midfielder Johnny Gorman, a regular squad member under Worthington, misses out as does Andrew Little of Rangers. Elsewhere, O'Neill has opted against handing senior calls to Rory Donnelly, who moved from Cliftonville to Swansea earlier this season, and Daniel Lafferty, who made the move from Derry City to Burnley in January.


From Belfast Telegraph