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Free agent Hughes is not ready to step off international stage

euro 2016

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland great Aaron Hughes is considering carrying on his international career. The 36-year-old defender was expected to retire after the Euro 2016 finals, but having played three games in France may decide to continue making himself available for duty.

Hughes admitted that much will depend on his situation at club level. He is currently a free agent having been released before the tournament by Australian outfit Melbourne City.

The former Newcastle and Fulham star said: "I'll wait to see what happens in terms of club football and the options I have.

"If the right option is there and I can still compete I'd certainly look to carry on if I can.

"I'm a free agent. Going to France and not expecting to play I was just looking to enjoy the experience and immerse myself in the competition. Now that it's over I'll have a look.

"I need to get myself back to Australia, get my things packed up and go from there."

Following Northern Ireland's defeat to Poland in their opening Group C match, Hughes was drafted in at right back for the 2-0 victory over Ukraine and kept his place to face World Cup holders Germany and then Wales in the knockout stages.

Hughes, who made his debut for Northern Ireland in 1998 and has now won 103 caps, said: "I wasn't expecting it to be honest. Leading up to the competition over the past few months I was just working to keep myself in the best possible shape so that if I was required I'd be able to take part.

"To start three games and come through all but one of the matches has been a surprise but one I've absolutely relished.

"I never thought I would have the chance to do it and once the disappointment of going out of the tournament goes I can look back over the last three or four weeks and say it's been the best experience.

"I didn't feel I was owed something like this but maybe it's a case of hard work paying off. It's been worth it just to be part of this squad."

Hughes added that the bond between the players in France was special.

He said: "That made it for me. You'd think a group of lads together for four or five weeks would be killing each other but it's not been like that. It's such a good group, one of the hardest things will be to walk away and say cheerio to the lads."

The Cookstown native has been involved in some famous victories with Northern Ireland but insists the win over Ukraine now ranks as number one.

"It's got to be the best ever. Just the feeling that day, the emotion, the atmosphere, it was like nothing I've ever experienced," he added.

"If you could bottle what we had that day and any time you're feeling down just open up the bottle and have a drink, that would be amazing. It was an experience I'll never forget."

On losing to Wales, Hughes stated: "It was disappointing. As much as we've enjoyed being in France and enjoyed the experience we really felt we had a chance to go further."

Belfast Telegraph