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Northern Ireland great Aaron Hughes to announce retirement and end remarkable career

 

Aaron Hughes
Aaron Hughes

By Graham Luney

Northern Ireland great Aaron Hughes is set to announce his retirement from football this week.

The Cookstown man, who will be 40 in November, has been contemplating retirement for a number of months and his club career looks to be over after yesterday's 2-1 defeat for Hearts at Celtic.

Hughes was given the captain's armband when he came on in the 67th minute and savoured the final few moments of a memorable 22-year career.

Before the Scottish Premiership game, his former Northern Ireland team-mate and Celtic boss Neil Lennon was joined by Hearts chief Craig Levein as they presented him with a commemorative gift to mark over 650 appearances for several clubs, including Hearts, Newcastle United, Fulham and Aston Villa.

The experienced defender is not expected to feature for Hearts in Saturday's Scottish Cup final against Celtic at Hampden.

With his club commitments coming to an end, it appears certain that Hughes will also bring the curtain down on his extraordinary Northern Ireland career.

Although called into Michael O'Neill's squad for the opening Euro 2020 qualifiers against Estonia and Belarus, he has been largely an unused substitute at international level and his last appearance was in the 3-0 defeat to Costa Rica during the short tour of Central America last year.

Retirement thoughts were on his mind following that tour and he now accepts his body can no longer cope with the rigours of the professional club game.

With 112 appearances, the most capped outfield player in Northern Ireland's history will not reach legendary goalkeeper Pat Jennings' record total of 119 while Steven Davis, on 109, should overtake him on the list.

He has one international goal - against the Faroe Islands in August, 2011 at Windsor Park.

The longest serving member of the current squad, the former Northern Ireland captain made his international debut against Slovakia when Lawrie McMenemy was in charge in 1998.

And he first skippered his country back in April, 2002 when Northern Ireland lost 5-0 to Spain at Windsor Park.

O'Neill encouraged Hughes not to retire from international football in October 2011 and he went on to feature in three of Northern Ireland's four matches at the Euro 2016 finals.

The Northern Ireland boss will soon name his squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers at Estonia and Belarus next month.

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