Belfast Telegraph

Aaron Hughes one of our all-time greats: Shaw

By Steven Beacom

It was at Wilgar Park of all places that the future President of the Irish FA first set eyes on a future Northern Ireland hero.

Coagh United beat Islandmagee in the Border Cup final in the 1995-96 season on penalties.

In the Coagh side was a teenager called Aaron Hughes, presented with his winners medal by Jim Shaw, who rose through the IFA ranks to become the current President.

Shaw recalls: “That was the first time I met Aaron — it’s a nice memory actually because I presented him with his winners medal that day.

“Even then you could tell that he was going to be an excellent player. He really stood out.

“Not long after the final he went over to Newcastle and soon made it into the Northern Ireland squad and he stayed there for 13 or 14 years which is remarkable.”

Down the years Shaw has watched more Northern Ireland games than most and rates retiring skipper Hughes as one of the best internationals we’ve had.

“For me reliability was his biggest feature — he never let Northern Ireland down,” said Shaw. “In my opinion he deserves to go down as an all-time great.”

After deciding his international career would end when the current European Championship campaign finishes for Northern Ireland, it was hoped Aaron’s Windsor swansong would be on Friday night against Estonia.

Injury, however, has ruled him out of that match and the game in Italy next week effectively ending his time with Northern Ireland earlier than the player, fans and everyone at the IFA had hoped.

The IFA have invited Hughes to Belfast to receive a proper send-off on Friday night.

“It’s so unfortunate that injury has ruled him out of playing one last time at Windsor Park,” added Shaw.

“But at least Aaron has some great memories from playing with Northern Ireland and so do those of us who have watched him.”

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