Former Northern Ireland captain Aaron Hughes retires from football
Last Updated: 12/06/19 4:54pm
Former Northern Ireland captain Aaron Hughes has announced his retirement from football, bringing his 22-year playing career to an end.
The 39-year-old made an emotional speech in the changing room after their 1-0 win against Belarus in Minsk on Tuesday, with the defender not named in the matchday squad.
Hughes, who made his Northern Ireland debut as an 18-year-old in 1998, won 112 caps for his country, which is seven short of record holder Pat Jennings and one more than current skipper Steven Davis.
"I would like to thank the Northern Ireland fans for the support they have given me, especially in the early years when things maybe weren't so great on the pitch," Hughes said.
"Windsor (Park) is such a special place and it has been so good in recent years to see the ground become a fantastic place to watch football, regardless of who you are or where you are from."
So my professional playing career has finally come to an end and I’m officially retired! Not sure where the time went, but what an incredible journey it’s been. Thank you to everyone who helped and supported me along the way.— Aaron Hughes (@AaronHughes18) June 12, 2019
I have quite literally lived the dream!
Hughes, who said he had "lived the dream" in a social media post to confirm his retirement, left Hearts after two-and-a-half years at the club last month when his contract came to an end.
The defender came through the ranks at Newcastle and made more than 200 appearances for the club, before spells at Aston Villa and Fulham. Later in his club career, he played at QPR, Brighton, Melbourne City and for Kerala Blasters in India, prior to his move to Hearts.
Hughes first announced his retirement from international football in September 2011, but he was talked out of the decision by current manager Michael O'Neill the following year. He went on to represent his country at the 2016 European Championships.
"I would like to thank all the managers who have selected me," Hughes said.
"Each and every one of them played a role and had a big influence. From Lawrie McMenemy, who gave me my debut, to Sammy (McIlroy) who gave me the armband, right through Lawrie (Sanchez), Nigel (Worthington) and obviously Michael (O'Neill) who has been more than fantastic with me.
"It would be remiss of me not to mention him in a different sort of way. At the stage of my career when I wasn't playing as much football he still saw a value in me.
"He still saw that I could be a good influence with younger players, and he kept me around and gave me a purpose. He gave me the opportunity to come back, to be in the squad and ultimately to go to a EUROS. For that I will be forever grateful."
Northern Ireland have won their opening four games of Euro 2020 qualifying and Hughes, whose last international appearance came in a friendly against Costa Rica last summer, said he would miss the camaraderie the squad have created.
"Finally, I would like to thank my team-mates. The memories that we have had, the highs that we have had, going to a Euros, those are experiences that you can't have on your own," he said.
"You can only reach those heights if you have great teammates around you and I have been very lucky to be involved in a group over the past seven or eight years that have worked really hard to be successful. They took me to a Euros, they took me to 100 caps and I am very proud to retire having been part of a very special group of Northern Ireland players."