Northern Ireland's Aaron Hughes: Euro joy stopped me from quitting the game
Northern Ireland legend Aaron Hughes has revealed that he was on the verge of retiring until the incredible experience of Euro 2016 “lit a fire” in him to continue his playing career.
And now the 36-year-old could play a key role in Northern Ireland’s bid for World Cup qualification having been a late call-up to the squad for the double-header at home to San Marino on Saturday and against the World champions Germany in Hannover on Tuesday.
Hughes, who joined Indian Super League side Kerala Blasters in the summer following an unsatisfactory spell in Australia with Melbourne City, admitted he was considering hanging up his boots after the Euro finals, but playing three games in France and taking his tally of caps to 103 changed his mindset going forward.
Hughes said: “I was thinking about calling it a day after the Euros because I didn’t know how it was going to go.
“But being involved in it, playing in games in those big stadiums and getting the desire back lit the fire again and I was like, ‘I can’t retire after this’.
“I decided that I wanted to do this as long as I could and as long as my body would allow me to, so then my plans changed and I looked at the options open to me.”
The best available option turned out to be a surprise move to India.
Once Hughes, who will be 37 in November, had decided he would not be hanging up his boots, he had to tell his wife and children.
“I went back and said we aren’t staying in Australia but I have to keep playing,” he recalled. “I was looking back in England and then the India move popped up and I’m happy to be there.”
Nothing will beat the memories of Euro 2016, however, for the respected defender who played in the win over Ukraine and defeat to Germany in the group games as well as the unfortunate loss to Wales in the last 16.
Taking a break from Northern Ireland training sessions at Carton House in Dublin, Hughes said there wasn’t one single moment in France that led to him making the big call to continue — it was everything about the nation’s first major tournament since the 1986 World Cup.
“The overall experience was incredible,” said the Cookstown man. “There was the excitement of the games and the adrenaline. It was something I missed in Melbourne when I wasn’t playing as much as I had wanted.
“Just training is not the same, being out on the pitch is what it is all about.
“Going from that to the Euros it would have been a great experience had I played or not.
“I was excited to be there to enjoy everything and then I got game time and the experience went beyond my expectations and dreams. I knew that I missed it and decided to keep playing.”
Hughes was called into the squad on Monday after Watford’s Craig Cathcart had to withdraw through injury.
Yesterday another defender, Aberdeen’s Callum Morris, was drafted into the squad for the games with San Marino and Germany. Morris travelled to the Czech Republic for last month’s 0-0 draw but didn’t feature in Prague.
St Johnstone midfielder Paul Paton is another new addition.
The ex-Dundee United player has two international caps and last represented Northern Ireland in the friendly match against Wales at Cardiff City Stadium in March.
Manager Michael O’Neill has resisted the urge to bring a striker on board after injury forced Liam Boyce to withdraw.
Last week O’Neill revealed Wigan Athletic hero Will Grigg would not be involved due to family reasons after his partner had a baby.
That leaves Kyle Lafferty, Josh Magennis and Conor Washington as his front line forwards, though Jamie Ward is capable of playing in attack.