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Aaron Hughes: I knew we could do it with our manager


We did it: Gareth McAuley and Aaron Hughes celebrate

We did it: Gareth McAuley and Aaron Hughes celebrate

?William Cherry / Presseye

We did it: Gareth McAuley and Aaron Hughes celebrate

Aaron Hughes has revealed that he had a feeling Michael O'Neill's football philosophy would take Northern Ireland to a major finals when the manager persuaded him to come out of international retirement.

Once O'Neill was appointed to lead his country at the end of 2011, one of the first things he did was to ask the Cookstown man to return and since then the experienced Hughes has been lifted by what he has seen, culminating in qualification for the Euro 2016 finals thanks to Thursday night's 3-1 home win against Greece.

"When Michael asked me to come out of international retirement he explained to me his ideas on the way forward for the team," said the 35-year-old Melbourne City defender.

"He basically outlined what I had been thinking for quite some time; how to build for the future and a certain style of play.

"After I spoke to him I honestly believed that Michael's philosophy would get us through to the finals of a major competition.

"Although the World Cup qualifying results in his first campaign in charge were disappointing you could sense the team were going in the right direction.

"This group of players have had a belief and desire to succeed since the start of the current campaign. They want to play for each other and Michael. There is a strong bond between them, a real camaraderie.

"Everyone, players, backroom staff and management have worked so hard over the past 12 months and qualification for France has been our reward.

"There have been a lot of memorable games since I have been involved, the matches against England, Spain and Sweden were all big nights for Northern Ireland and they were special in their own way.

"But qualifying for a major tournament eclipses all those results, as the team has had to be consistent throughout a whole campaign. Also the prize is even more special as we have never qualified for the Euros before.

"We have created history by making it to France and it is a huge achievement for a country of our size, and to be honest I think it's going to take a little bit of time for it to sink in."

Belfast Telegraph