Belfast Telegraph

Aaron Hughes: Fresh start in Melbourne was an easy decision

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland's most capped outfield player Aaron Hughes has admitted he jumped at the chance to move to Australia for a fresh start in his career.

Hughes was just 18 when he made his debut for Newcastle - against Barcelona in the Nou Camp - going on to play over 500 times in English football for the Geordies, Aston Villa, Fulham, QPR and latterly Brighton.

When the Seagulls released him last season, the 35-year-old was faced with a big question to answer when a few weeks ago he was offered the opportunity to join Australian A-League side Melbourne City.

Would he try something new for himself and his family on the other side of the world or sit tight and wait for an English team to come calling?

The Cookstown man chose the former moving to Melbourne on a one-year deal, taking his wife and young children with him 10,500 miles away from home.

Speaking from the land of TV soap Neighbours yesterday, he stated there was no hesitation in making the life changing decision.

Hughes said: "I got a call a few weeks ago to say there was an opportunity for me to go to Australia if I was interested and I said 'definitely, 100%'. For me it is a great opportunity to experience something new having played in England all my career.

"It was an easy decision in the end to come here and bring my family as well. It is a fresh start and something I want to throw everything into and hopefully contribute to a successful season."

Hughes added that his ex-Fulham team-mate and former Republic of Ireland hero Damien Duff, who played with Melbourne last season, was glowing in his praise of the club and the city.

"I played for a few years with Damien and he spoke highly of not just the club but the whole area and the people," said the Ulsterman.

"He said the experience was fantastic. When the opportunity came up for me I dropped him a text and he pretty much said if I didn't go for it he would never speak to me again so that tells you all you need to know about what Duffer thinks of the place.

"From what I hear the team is well supported and the fans are really passionate and excited about what's happening here."

Hughes could play his first game for his new side against their sister club Manchester City on Saturday in a pre-season friendly, though the new campaign in the Australian A-League, in which Melbourne City finished fifth last season, does not start until October.

The month before Hughes should be with the Northern Ireland squad for their vital Euro 2016 doubler header against the Faroe Islands and Hungary with Michael O'Neill's men second in Group F and well placed to qualify for next year's finals.

"I still want to be involved with the national team," said the man who has won 96 caps.

"We are in with a good chance of making the Euro finals so I want to be playing football regularly at a good standard and with a good team and good set up.

"The confidence in the Northern Ireland squad at the moment is huge. We have a strong bond and a really good work ethic and have the best chance that we have had in years to qualify.

"We have reached the World Cup finals before but not the European Championships and hopefully this is our turn. You never know what the future will hold and we have to take this chance when it is there. That is what everyone is hoping and striving for."

On his new arrival, Melbourne manager John van 't Schip said: "Aaron is an extremely experienced professional and is an excellent addition to our squad.

"He brings with him a vast amount of Premier League and international experience which will be of great benefit to the entire team and his many qualities will greatly strengthen our defence."

Belfast Telegraph