Belfast Telegraph

Former Northern Ireland skipper Aaron Hughes left feeling his age

By Mark McIntosh

On the pitch veteran defender Aaron Hughes has always been a leader – but away from the football stadium, the Fulham star admits he is out of touch with Michael O'Neill's young guns.

While he will read a book or watch a movie to waste the tedious hours on end of non-activity on international away trips, the 33-year-old concedes he hasn't got to grip with the modern day footballer's best friend – gaming.

"I honestly look around and feel as if I am the one who needs to make the effort to fit in, rather than the younger ones coming through to settle in the team," said the former Newcastle United and Aston Villa star ahead of tonight's friendly in Malta.

"They all know each other from the under-18s and under 21s; I could be sitting at lunch or dinner on a table on my own! They're all chatting about Fifa 13 or Call of Duty and I'm... well, not really in the conversation.

"It's never really been a case of younger players asking me about much but the experienced ones tend to pass it on during training and encourage them to pick up good habits, as well as show a strong work ethic."

While Hughes may struggle to hold down a conversation with the new breed, he is excited by what they can do on the pitch.

"A lot of them are scoring at their own clubs regularly, which hasn't always been the case for Northern Ireland but you hope they'll bring their confidence to the game and no matter what level you play at, that they can bring goals.

"There's probably an element of fearlessness among them, possibly verging on being a bit naive about the whole thing, because it's all new. But it's still football and they're no less professional.

"It's just a positive, because they get out and play, without thinking about any pressure. They don't have the same baggage.

"I think we are still building on a lot of things. Michael has come in and the lads have taken on board the way he wants us to play pretty quickly. There is a lot of attention to detail in terms of what we are taking on.

"The lads are really receptive to it and we got the rewards in Portugal. We don't really ever expect to have more than 45 or 50 per cent of the possession. We could have 20 or so, and come home with a result.

"On the flipside, at home, it can still be very difficult to break teams down. However, we look at Portugal and the performance in Russia, which I thought was very good.

"Looking at it from the big picture, we still have a long way to go. We've made it this far through the campaign and come up a bit short, but the future which the lads are building for, we just need to keep the group together as much as we can and push on."

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