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Aaron Hughes hopes Hearts move will keep him in the frame for Northern Ireland

By Graham Luney

Aaron Hughes says he's planning plenty more special days with Hearts and Northern Ireland.

The 37-year-old may be in the autumn of his career but he's still got the appetite for the game both on the international and club stage.

A free agent after leaving Indian Super League outfit Kerala Blasters, Northern Ireland's most capped player on 104 appearances is now relishing his next challenge under new Jambos boss Ian Cathro.

"With the current World Cup campaign, I was hoping to come back and play at a level that is going to help keep me involved with the national team," said the former Newcastle, Aston Villa and Fulham defender.

"That was the idea about coming back to the UK.

"Hopefully if I can play and do well, that will keep me consistent and enable me to stay involved with Northern Ireland too.

"A long term deal with Hearts is definitely the aim.

"I've felt right at home in Scotland. I love the passion they have here.

"It wasn't such an easy decision to come to Hearts because I'd only played three months at Hamilton. But when I got the offer I was really excited about it.

"I think it's the right decision to sign for Hearts."

Hughes will link up with Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill's assistant Austin MacPhee, now number two to Cathro at Hearts.

"Austin was the first point of contact," he revealed.

"When he first mentioned it, it was certainly something I was interested in. It's gone back and forward for a couple of weeks but I'm delighted to have finally got it signed."

Hughes will take former Hearts skipper Alim Ozturk's place in Cathro's squad after he was allowed to depart Tynecastle.

The 24-year-old negotiated his release from the Jambos over the weekend and has now signed an 18-month deal with Turkish second-tier side Boluspor.

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