Belfast Telegraph

A true legend and an absolute unit: Aaron Hughes praised by football world after Northern Ireland hero announces retirement

Aaron Hughes has been praised by plenty of ex team-mates after announcing his retirement.
Aaron Hughes has been praised by plenty of ex team-mates after announcing his retirement.
Aaron Hughes has received praise from former Newcastle, Fulham and Northern Ireland team-mates.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Northern Ireland stars have joined with the Premier League's greatest ever striker to heap praise on Aaron Hughes, after the defender announced his retirement on Tuesday evening.

The 39-year-old finally called time on a top class career via an emotional speech to his Northern Ireland team-mates in the Borisov Arena after the country's 1-0 vicory over Belarus.

While it had been expected that the veteran would hang up his boots after leaving Hearts at the end of the season, it was an announcement that rippled out from Belarus and reached the very top of the footballing world.

Former Newcastle striker Alan Shearer, who netted 260 goals in England's top tier and played alongside Hughes throughout the Northern Irishman's eight year stay at St James' Park, led the tributes.

The defender made his Newcastle debut against Barcelona at the Nou Camp and went on to play 279 games for the club.

"Having known Aaron Hughes for nearly 25 years it was an honour to be present to witness his typically classy speech to all of the Northern Ireland players and staff to announce his retirement from the game after an amazing career," added former Newcastle keeper and current Northern Ireland coach Steve Harper.

Hughes moved on to Aston Villa in 2005. It was there that he played alongside Celtic hero Sitilyan Petrov, who joined in the praise for his old team-mate.

"Great man and perfect professional," said the midfielder. "Enjoy your retirement Aaron. All the best in the future".

Hughes then joined former Northern Ireland boss Lawrie Sanchez at Fulham, where he crossed paths with Steve Sidwell.

"What an innings big man," he said. "Top professional all the way and a dream to play in front of you. Oh and an absolute unit in the gym !! All the best and catch up soon".

Hughes stayed at Craven Cottage for seven years before dropping down to Championship sides QPR and Brighton.

Moves abroad to Melbourne City and India's Kerala Blasters followed before he joined Hearts for his final two seasons.

At international level, Hughes picked up 112 caps for Northern Ireland, captain for 48 of those including the historic victories over England and Spain at Windsor Park.

It was there that Hughes set the example for a generation of Northern Ireland players.

"Without doubt the best professional I encountered during my football career," said former international Paddy McCourt. "I was fortunate enough to play alongside Aaron Hughes at Brighton and we also spent many years together with Northern Ireland. A true gentleman and brilliant player."

Hughes passed over the baton of the international captaincy to Steven Davis, who has added to the increasing pile of praise.

"He has been a huge player for us over many years, such a consistent performer, and he will be remembered as a proper legend," he said.

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Aaron Hughes has received praise from former Newcastle, Fulham and Northern Ireland team-mates.

"He was captain when I first came into the squad and he was always a model pro and player. He's going to be a huge miss around the place. It's been a pleasure to share the pitch and dressing room with (him)."

Hughes' defensive partner for much of his Northern Ireland career was Stephen Craigan, who lined up at centre-half for the famous 1-0 win over England in 2005. As did many others, Craigan pointed to Hughes' character as well as his playing ability.

As if it needed proven, the outpouring of goodwill from across the footballing world is evidence of Aaron Hughes' standing.

As Stuart Dallas put it, he leaves the game as 'a true legend'.

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