NORTHERN Ireland skipper Aaron Hughes revealed last weekend that he will be retiring from international football at the end of the current qualifying campaign.
Hughes revealed his decision in an interview on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sportsound programme.
The current Northern Ireland captain has led his country on forty six occasions and if he is fit enough to participate in the two remaining qualifiers, he will have made eighty appearances for Northern Ireland.
“I have always felt very proud and privileged to play for my country and it has also been a great honour to captain the side.”
The Fulham FC defender revealed that a desire to prolong his club career was one of the main reasons behind his decision.
“There are a few reasons why I would want to stay on, but there are more for me to say it is time to call it a day and concentrate on my club football.”
However, the Cookstown born defender regrets not being able to lead his country to a major finals.
“It would have been nice to go out on a high by qualifying to a major finals but it was not meant to be.”
The versatile defender first became involved in the international squad in Bryan Hamilton’s last ever game in charge of the international side.
Hamilton took Hughes to Portugal for a World Cup qualifier in October 1997, when he was just 17 years old and before he had made a breakthrough at Newcastle United.
However, Hughes was not capped out in Portugal but soon made his debut for Northern Ireland a few months later.
Under Lawrie McMenemy the talented teenager made his debut against Slovakia in March 1998. Only four years later Hughes was handed the captaincy against Spain by Sammy McIlroy and since then he has been an inspirational leader for Northern Ireland.
During his tenure as skipper Hughes has led his country to famous victories over England, Spain, Sweden and Denmark.
He scored his first international goal in Northern Ireland’s 4-0 win in the Euro 2012 qualifier against Faroe Islands at Windsor Park on 10 August this year.
His absence from the international setup will be huge blow to the squad. Hughes made his decision only months after his defensive colleague Stephen Craigan also announced his international retirement.
On Tuesday, Hughes was named in Nigel Worthington’s squad for the final group qualifiers against Estonia and Italy. Northern Ireland take on Estonia in their last home game of the campaign on Friday 7th October and conclude their qualifying with a visit to Pescara to face Italy on Tuesday 11th October.