Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland v Morocco: Aaron Hughes happy to be called the old man of Northern Ireland team

By Stuart McKinley

When Aaron Hughes gets the ball at his feet tonight and tries to build an attack from the back, he’ll look up and get a glimpse into the future of Northern Ireland football.

Teenage debutants and players who have been waiting patiently for their chance at international level will be all around him.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Manager Nigel Worthington named his strongest possible squad last week — bar the omission of David Healy — but the absence of a full starting line-up, plus now a couple of subs after Andy Little was sent home ill yesterday, has given the squad a very different look.

And that fact that Lee Hodson and Adam Barton will be given debuts makes this evening’s Windsor Park friendly against Morocco all the more interesting, intriguing and exciting.

Only five members of the starting line-up have ever started a competitive international and Worthington will learn so much more than if he’d fielded his tried and trusted senior stars.

“Everyone keeps reminding me that I’m the senior member of the squad now,” said 31-year-old Hughes.

“We’ve a lot of young players in and it’ll be a good experience for them. Not only that, there are a few lads who have been in a lot of squads, who have travelled here there and everywhere and maybe don’t get as much playing time as the others.

“These games are a little reward in a way for the lads who have been patient.

“It’s a chance for them to get a game too and it’s exciting for them because they get a chance to play at Windsor against good quality opposition because they are a good side. It’ll be a good experience for everyone.

“Getting your first cap gives you a bit of excitement, yes there will be nerves, but I think it’s more excitement.”

Hughes first captained Northern Ireland in April 2002 when Sammy McIlroy had 13 players missing.

Neither Lawrie Sanchez or Worthington have experienced such a nightmare – until now — but eight years on there is a deeper pool of talent to dip into.

“It’s just one of those things that lads have all picked up injuries at the same time,” said Hughes, who himself has never experienced sitting on the bench since his Northern Ireland debut as a teenager in March 1998.

“We’ve never had an issue and before everyone has turned up whether it’s been a friendly away to Albania or a qualifier at home to Italy.”

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