Belfast Telegraph

'Aussie' Aaron Hughes is still in my plans, says Michael O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Michael O'Neill has told veteran Northern Ireland defender Aaron Hughes that he remains part of his Euro 2016 plans, despite moving to Melbourne City.

The 35-year-old was a free agent at the end of last season after being released by Championship side Brighton and when the opportunity came to go to Australia on a year-long contract, the Cookstown man was immediately interested.

Only one issue concerned him about playing in the Australian A-League... whether it would have a negative impact on his international career.

A conversation with the Northern Ireland boss eased any concerns for the former Newcastle, Aston Villa and Fulham ace, who has won 96 caps.

O'Neill said: "When the Australian opportunity came up, Aaron asked me if it would affect him with Northern Ireland and I told him it wouldn't.

"I think the level Aaron will be playing at will be competitive enough and I want to keep him on board.

"It certainly won't affect his standing with me and the team.

"Obviously moving to Melbourne is going to be a new experience for Aaron and his family but when it came along he was really keen on the idea.

"He didn't enjoy last season because he didn't play that much and also when you play in the Premier League for all of your career the Championship can be a real culture shock. I think it is a great move for Aaron and that he will do well there."

Another of O'Neill's central defenders, Jonny Evans, is also set to move on. Everton, West Brom, Tottenham, Arsenal and Sunderland are among the Premier League clubs who are monitoring the Manchester United star.

Evans is aware that he will not be first choice for United this season under Louis van Gaal and realises it may be best for him to play elsewhere.

O'Neill said: "I know Jonny wants first-team football. He is a quality defender and if he does move on, whoever gets him will have a top-class player."

It has been a busy summer for Northern Ireland players on the transfer front. Chris Baird left West Brom for Derby County, who released Jamie Ward. He is now at Nottingham Forest and Will Grigg was snapped up by Wigan.

"Going to Derby is a great move for Chris Baird and I think Jamie Ward's transfer to Nottingham Forest can work for him," added O'Neill.

"Will Grigg has gone to Wigan and he will be in a team you would expect to be challenging for promotion, which will be good for Will."

O'Neill is also keeping a close eye on Kyle Lafferty's situation at Norwich City.

There is a possibility Northern Ireland's influential striker could leave Carrow Road.

Belfast Telegraph