Aaron Hughes: Overwhelming tributes hammered home fact I had actually retired
Northern Ireland legend Aaron Hughes has admitted he was surprised and overwhelmed by the many tributes that came his way when he retired as a footballer in the summer.
The end officially came after Northern Ireland's vital Euro 2020 qualifying victory over Belarus in June, though the 39-year-old had decided to call it a day weeks before.
Hughes, who won 112 caps and was a Premier League regular for 17 years with Newcastle, Aston Villa and Fulham, received an outpouring of respect from fans and former team-mates alike including Alan Shearer, Steven Davis and Stephen Craigan.
On all the messages of goodwill, the modest Cookstown native said: "I was genuinely surprised getting messages from different people and seeing different things, even from players I had played with like Alan Shearer but hadn't spoken to for a few years.
"Big names in the game coming out and taking the time to say something was a bit overwhelming because you don't really know what to do with that.
"You want to say thanks but I can't say thanks to everyone individually because there were so many people to say something to."
Smiling, he added: "It hammered home a little bit that I had finished and couldn't change my mind."
Hughes has never been one for big statements but, following Northern Ireland's 1-0 victory in Belarus, the defender decided to make a farewell speech to his international pals.
It proved to be emotional, with the veteran reflecting on his time in a green shirt and what playing at the Euro 2016 finals meant to him.
Hughes also talked about the future for those he was leaving behind.
"After international games it is very hard to get the lads in one place at one time and I didn't want to say anything before the game because the focus had to be on the match," revealed Hughes.
"Once the game was finished, I spoke to the lads and it turned into a bit of a speech where everyone was sat around.
"It was really just to say thanks for taking me to a finals and giving me the memories that I'll always have and to wish them luck.
"I mentioned it was an exciting squad. After the Euro 2016 finals there were questions if we could do it again. In my opinion we should have qualified for the World Cup but for a bad refereeing decision. At the same time, I'm not disappointed with how we performed in that campaign because I knew we gave everything.
"To start this campaign the way we have, we are proving we can qualify again. We are bringing young players through and the older lads are getting more experience and there is no drop off from them. Maybe now we are a better equipped side to qualify. I wanted to reiterate that point.
"I was a wee bit emotional because effectively I was saying goodbye as a team-mate. I didn't mean it to be emotional or didn't expect it to be. I didn't want to take away from what had happened out on the pitch because it was a great win in Belarus.
"It was nice to get them all there and be able to say thanks. I didn't want it to be, 'Cheers lads, see you soon'. I genuinely wanted to say thank you because they had given me some of the best memories I've had in my career and I appreciated that."