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O'Neill undecided over captaincy

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill is delighted Aaron Hughes has chosen to end his brief international retirement - but has not yet decided if the Fulham defender will reclaim the captain's armband.

O'Neill has included Hughes in his first squad as national boss ahead of the February 29 friendly against Norway after the 32-year-old reversed the decision he made in September to end his Northern Ireland career after 13 years and 79 caps.

O'Neill said: "The captaincy is not something I've given that much consideration to at the moment. There are options, but we have three friendlies coming up so I'll look at the situation and have the right person in place for the Russia match."

While there were no brand new faces in O'Neill's squad - each of the 24 players has been capped at least once - he recalled Burnley's Michael Duff, Kilmarnock's Dean Shiels and Newcastle's Shane Ferguson to the set-up.

Duff and Shiels had both been overlooked for the majority of predecessor Nigel Worthington's reign, while there were concerns last year Ferguson was considering declaring for the Republic of Ireland.

O'Neill is unconcerned about the past, though, and is particularly excited by what Shiels and Ferguson can bring to the squad.

"All the players have been picked on merit and current form. What happened in the past is irrelevant, it's not a factor for me," he said.

"I'm building relationships with these players now and someone like Dean is having a fantastic season with Kilmarnock and scoring goals from an advanced midfield position. He's a player who is on top of his game at the moment, but his international opportunities have been limited.

"Shane is a player who can play in both positions on the left and is consistently knocking on the door at Newcastle. He's a young player we want to make the next step. He has the ability to have a good Premier League career and also a long and successful international one as well.

"I didn't have to think long and hard about including either of those players."


From Belfast Telegraph