Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland hero Aaron Hughes to be offered final Windsor roar before retirement

Aaron Hughes
Aaron Hughes

By Paul Ferguson in the Sunday Life

Northern Ireland's most capped outfield player may be persuaded to postpone his intended retirement for a few months - so he can receive one final hero's ovation at Windsor Park.

Evergreen defender Aaron Hughes, having performed for over 20 years in the professional game, is expected to officially retire from football this summer.

The 39-year-old from Cookstown wasn't in the Hearts side that were beaten 2-1 by Celtic in Saturday's Scottish Cup final and has only played a handful of games throughout the season.

But Sunday Life can reveal Hughes, capped an incredible 112 times, will be included in Michael O'Neill's squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers against Estonia and Belarus in two weeks time when the Northern Ireland manager announces his squad on Thursday in Belfast.

Hughes, who made his international debut at the tender age of 18, will act as cover in defence but provided O'Neill's defenders stay fit, the former Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Fulham centre half is unlikely to add to his international appearances from the bench in Tallinn or Borisov.

However, provided he is agreeable, the Irish FA are considering offering Hughes the perfect send-off, in front of a passionate home support, during the international friendly against Luxembourg at Windsor Park on September 5.

It would be a fitting tribute to a man who captained his country with great pride and led Northern Ireland during some of their finest victories, against England, Spain, Sweden and Denmark.

After retiring initially for a short time in 2011, following Nigel Worthington's stint as manager, Hughes was encouraged back into the international fold by O'Neill and enjoyed his greatest years in a green shirt.

He played his part in creating history by helping Northern Ireland qualify for the Euro 2016 finals in France and then, after being left out of the first game of the tournament against Poland, played a significant role in the right back position as O'Neill's men enjoyed their moment on the big stage against Ukraine, Germany and Wales.

As he reached the twilight of his career, Hughes made tremendous sacrifices to keep his international career going by travelling to Australia and India for club football. In recent years, he has settled in Edinburgh as Hearts gave him once last dance in the sunshine.

However, Hughes knows he can't give any more and it's time to hang up the boots.

But hopefully only after receiving one last rousing and deserved reception at Windsor Park.

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