Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football

Veteran Northern Ireland defender Aaron Hughes will not rush retirement decision

Northern Ireland's most capped outfield player, Aaron Hughes, has hinted he could sign up for one more campaign after the career-high experience of Euro 2016.

The 36-year-old first announced his international retirement almost five years ago, but was persuaded to recommit at the start of Michael O'Neill's tenure and has gone on to become a record-breaker in green and white.

He took his tally to 103 appearances in France and, although he is currently without a club following a brief spell with Melbourne City, is considering extending his 18-year stint.

It was widely expected he would ride off into the sunset after Northern Ireland's first major tournament in 30 years but will not rush to a decision.

"I'll wait to see what happens in terms of club football and the options I have, I'm really not sure," he told Press Association Sport.

"If the right option is there and I can still compete I'd certainly look to carry on if I can.

"I'm a free agent but I was just looking to enjoy this experience, immerse myself in the competition. Now that it's over I'll have a look.

"I need to get myself back to Australia, get my things packed up and go from there."

Hughes has been a hugely important player for Northern Ireland since his debut in 1998, captaining the team in historic wins over Spain, England and Sweden.

But he believes the taste of tournament football, particularly the 2-0 win over Ukraine, has been his finest moment yet.

He travelled to France expecting to be a back-up player, but was a beneficiary of O'Neill's bold tactical switch and ended up playing three full matches on the right side of defence.

"I wasn't expecting it to be honest," he admitted.

"Leading up to the competition over the past few months I was just working to keep myself in the best possible shape so that if I was required I'd be able to take part.

"To start three games, (and) come through all but one of the matches, has been a surprise but one I've absolutely relished.

"I never thought I would have the chance to do it and once the disappointment goes I can look back over the last three or four weeks and say it's been the best experience.

"It's got to be the best ever. Just the feeling that day against Ukraine...the emotion, the atmosphere, it was like nothing I've ever experienced.

"If you could bottle what we had that day and any time you're feeling down just open up the bottle and have a drink, that would be amazing.

"It was an experience I'll never forget."

In all his years donning the green shirt Hughes has never before had to deal with the 'cabin fever' environment.

But such is the unity in the camp, he is already worried about missing his team-mates.

"Everything I've been through with Northern Ireland has been worth it just to be part of this squad, that's something that has made it for me," he said.

"You'd think a group of lads together for four or five weeks would be killing each other but it's not been like that. It's such a good group, one of the hardest things will be to walk away and say cheerio to the lads."

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph