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Hughes set for Ireland swansong

Northern Ireland are back to full-strength for their Euro 2012 qualifiers against Estonia and Italy, with captain Aaron Hughes set to lead the squad for the final time before retirement.

Hughes announced at the weekend that he would call time on his international career after the last two matches of the current qualifying campaign and, if a recent knee problem allows, will hope to skipper the side for one last time at Windsor Park when Estonia visit on October 7, followed by the trip to Pescara to face Italy four days later.

His dream of qualifying for a first major tournament is in tatters after the side lost back-to-back matches against Serbia and then Estonia last time out.

Manager Nigel Worthington, whose own future is in doubt when his current deal expires at the end of the campaign, has a much-improved squad to choose from this time.

First-choice striker Kyle Lafferty and winger Paddy McCourt, who has not played since scoring two stunning goals against the Faroe Islands, are both in the 23-man squad having been sent home from Belfast last month with calf injuries.

Derby forward Jamie Ward was also forced to withdraw with a hamstring strain but is back in action for the Rams and returns to the international fold.

Elsewhere the Evans brothers, Jonny and Corry, are in the squad. Both players picked up second yellow cards of the campaign against Serbia and missed the visit to Estonia, while Jonny was a doubt after missing Manchester United's game against Stoke at the weekend.

Northern Ireland squad for next month's Euro 2012 qualifiers against Estonia and Italy:

Northern Ireland squad: Maik Taylor (unattached), Lee Camp (Nottingham Forest), Alan Mannus (St Johnstone); Jonny Evans (Manchester United), Ryan McGivern (Manchester City), Craig Cathcart (Blackpool), Gareth McAuley (West Brom), Aaron Hughes (Fulham), Lee Hodson (Watford), Chris Baird (Fulham); Grant McCann (Peterborough), Niall McGinn (Brentford), Jonny Gorman (Wolves), Corry Evans (Hull), Steven Davis (Rangers), Sammy Clingan (Coventry), Paddy McCourt (Celtic), Chris Brunt (West Brom); Warren Feeney (Plymouth), David Healy (Rangers), Jamie Ward (Derby), Kyle Lafferty (Rangers), Josh McQuoid (Millwall).

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