Aaron Hughes reverses decision to quit Northern Ireland duty

Aaron Hughes with Northern Ireland's record goalscorer David Healy
Aaron Hughes celebrates his only international goal with David Healy in last year's game against the Faroe Island

Aaron Hughes has reversed his decision to retire from international football after holding discussions with new Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill.

The Fulham defender spoke to O'Neill last week and he will be in the squad announced on Monday for the friendly against Norway at Windsor Park on 29 February.

After his appointment in late December, O'Neill made it clear that he wanted Hughes to return to international duty.

Hughes, 32, has 79 international caps.

The Cookstown native was Northern Ireland captain from 2003 until his international retirement last September and his decision to return to the international scene will be a major boost for the squad.

Northern Ireland face a tough World Cup qualifying group which also includes Portugal, Russia and Israel with only the winners guaranteed passage through to the finals in Brazil.

Hughes said that he had "thought very carefully over recent weeks" about the issue.

"After speaking with the new manager, Michael O'Neill, and also Billy McKinlay, who I'm obviously close to at Fulham, I feel I would like to once again return, and try to help us qualify for the next World Cup," added Hughes.

"I am proud to represent my country and it is my aim to contribute as much as I possibly can for the upcoming matches."

The Fulham player acknowledged that he had missed the international scene "more than I expected" after stepping away last autumn.

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Aaron Hughes explains his Northern Ireland return

"When I went back to say cheerio to everyone I was a bit more emotional than I thought I would be.

"I did miss it more than I had thought and a lot of the things Michael O'Neill was saying, I was very interested in."

Hughes added that he had become "frustrated" at the amount of criticism being directed at the squad following the disappointing end to the last Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.

"There amount of work we were doing and to see the criticism that was flying around at the end, I got a little bit sort of frustrated with it."

The Tyrone man accepts than Northern Ireland have probably an even tougher task in the upcoming World Cup group with Portugal and Russia expected to dominate.

"It's a hard group and no-one will expect us to qualify but what everyone will expect is for us to give ourselves every chance possible and to go into every game and give it a good go."

Manager O'Neill spoke of his "delight" at the player's decision.

"Aaron is a truly excellent professional and this is a massive boost, not only for me, but also for the squad," said O'Neill.

Hughes made his international debut against Slovakia in March 1998.