Belfast Telegraph

Going to Brazil with Northern Ireland inspired Hughes’ retirement U-turn

By Stuart McKinley

Aaron Hughes desire to play in the 2014 World Cup was the biggest motivating factor in his decision to shelve his plans to retire from international football.

The former skipper — who has now handed over the armband to Steven Davis — hasn’t returned to playing for Northern Ireland simply to add more caps to his total.

With 80 appearances to his name after Wednesday night’s 3-0 defeat against Norway at Windsor Park in Michael O’Neill’s first game as manager, it’s playing in Brazil in two years time that is driving the Cookstown-man.

He didn’t need to come back, having served his country for 13 years there were no dissenting voices when Hughes decided to call time on his Northern Ireland career, but the fact that a gaping whole exists on his international CV and the opportunity to fill it saw him perform a U-turn that was welcomed by every fan.

And while some would happily give Hughes and easy ride, he’s not interested in playing without pressure.

“With being one of the senior lads there is a certain amount of responsibility on our shoulders to help the younger lads along and help them to and deal with situations in games,” said Hughes, who smiled as he added that his wife had ‘no choice’ in his decision to return to the international stage.

“There are times when we’re going to be under pressure and things might be a bit hectic and that’s when they’ll look to the likes of myself, David Healy, Jonny Evans and lads who have been around for a few years to calm things down and help out in that sense.

“But really I came back to qualify for a World Cup.

“Speaking to the manager with the ideas he had, the chances that he wanted to make and obviously knowing Billy McKinlay from Fulham I know the standards that he works to and the demands he makes, it was all pretty appealing.”

Hughes has now won caps under five different Northern Ireland managers — Lawrie McMenemy, Sammy McIlroy, Lawrie Sanchez, Nigel Worthington and now O’Neill.

With Maik Taylor unlikely to play international football again now that he has reached the age of 40 and is no longer playing regularly at club level, 32-year-old Hughes was the oldest player in the starting line-up against the Norwegians — substitute Michael Duff, who replaced Hughes at half-time is 34 — and he is as excited as O’Neill and the fans to see players at the other end of their international careers blossoming, like Ryan McGivern and Shane Ferguson did on Wednesday night.

“There’s definitely a freshness about things under the new manager,” said Hughes.

“That happens every time a new manager comes in, be it with Northern Ireland or at club level, but even just in the way things are done in training.

“There are new faces, fresh faces with some young lads like Shane Ferguson coming in and doing well and others who have come back after being out for a while.”

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