Hughes happy to be back in action

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Published: Thursday 16th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Defender Aaron Hughes is delighted he was talked out of retirement by Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill.

Hughes, 34, captained his country for eight years before calling time on his international career in September 2011.

But O’Neill made reversing that decision his number one priority when he took over at the start of 2012 and with the help of assistant Billy McKinlay, who worked with Hughes at Fulham, persuaded him to come back on board.

Northern Ireland’s fifth-placed finish in World Cup 2014 qualifying may not have been what Hughes had hoped for but he signed up for another attempt and has played every minute of the team’s best ever start to a campaign.

O’Neill’s team have won all three of their Euro 2016 fixtures so far, a 2-0 success over top seeds Greece on Tuesday the best result so far.

“I had sort of decided that enough was enough. I was getting a little bit fed up with the same old things,” Hughes said of his retirement. “But sitting down and talking to Michael, finding out the direction he wanted the squad to go in and seeing the group of players I could see the potential there and I thought why not give it one more go.

“You are a long time retired and all that. I have had no regrets since coming back. It’s been fantastic.

“How can you not enjoy winning three games out of three?

“I’ve always said as long as we are competing and giving ourselves a chance. That is what it’s all about.

“I have never experienced winning three games at the start. I know we hadn’t won the first two qualifiers since 1968 and now we have won three which has never been done.”

Hughes has played 14 times since returning to the international fold, taking his tally to 93 caps – third on the all-time list behind Pat Jennings and David Healy.

Should he play all of the remaining qualifiers, he will also be the first outfield player to reach a century for Northern Ireland.

His experience, as well as that of his fellow senior men, is crucial but he is just as pleased by the recent form of the side’s emerging players.

“One of the main things now is the mentality of the group. We are not accepting going away, putting in a good performance but not getting the result,” he said.

“The quality of the younger players is so important. You still have the experience of people like myself, Gareth McAuley and Chris Baird but having the likes of Jamie Ward, Ollie Norwood, Shane Ferguson and others there is real quality.

“It is looking good for the future, not just the present.”

Published: Thursday 16th October 2014 by The News Editor

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