Aaron Hughes believes that a tougher Northern Ireland will emerge out of the wreckage of Wednesday night’s 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan.
And if that is the case Michael O’Neill could be enjoying a first victory as boss in Malta in February.
It is understood the Irish FA are lining up a friendly with the Maltese ahead of the World Cup qualifiers in March.
Hughes’ dream of World Cup qualification — that was the motivation behind the U-turn he performed after announcing his international retirement a year ago — is now highly unlikely to come true.
But the former captain is happy that at least something was achieved in the match with Azerbaijan thanks to David Healy’s late leveller after the home side trailed early on.
“You get yourself up for a game, get hit with an early blow and you've got to try to pick yourself back up again very quickly,” said Hughes.
“From the very start your character is tested. I think we came through that test. I think everyone showed they were still willing to get on the ball and didn’t fear making a mistake.
“We just kept going until the very end. We got the goal and got the point, it would have been nice to get three but that's the way it goes sometimes.”
In all of his 83 international appearances Hughes struggled to remember a match in which Northern Ireland created so many chances, but admitted that counted for little in the end.
“We dominated the game and it was frustrating that we had so many chances and it just didn't fall for us on the night,” said Hughes.
“There were lots of positives though. We can't really ask for much more, we had plenty of possession, we created plenty of chances, it was just unfortunate that on the night it wouldn't go in.
“It was going everywhere but the back of the net.
“You get nights like that. Sometimes you don't get what you deserve and that was the case this time.”