Aaron Hughes feels as though he’s fast becoming an elder statesman in the Northern Ireland squad as new manager Michael O’Neill brings through a new generation.
The Fulham centre back is quoted by the Belfast News Letter as finding it difficult to fit into the conversations of the younger members’ of the squad because he’s not all that au fait with the latest video games:
I honestly look around and feel as if I am the one who needs to make the effort to fit in, rather than the younger ones coming through to settle in the team. They all know each other from the under 18 and under 21s, I could be sitting at lunch or dinner on a table on my own! They’re all chatting about Fifa ’13 or Call of Duty and I’m… well, not really in the conversation!
More understated than the conventional leadership figure, Hughes is hoping to use his international experience to benefit a new crop of Northern Irish talent having been persuaded to return to the national side by O’Neill.
It’s never really been a case of younger players asking me about much, the experienced ones tend to pass it on during training and encourage them to pick up good habits, as well as show a strong work ethic. It’s a good thing, however, that the squad is so young. A lot of them are scoring at their own clubs regularly, which you could argue is the opposite to Northern Ireland normally, but you hope they’ll bring their confidence to the game which should yield goals.
There’s probably an element of fearlessness among them, possibly verging on being a bit naive about the whole thing, because it’s all new. But it’s still football and they’re no less professional. It’s just a positive, because they get out and play, without thinking about any pressure. They don’t have the same baggage.
Northern Ireland are looking to celebrate the first anniversary of O’Neill taking charge of the national side with a first win under the new boss against Malta in this week’s friendly.
It would be great to get the first win for Michael, so we don’t have to talk about it anymore. We are missing Chris Baird and Kyle Lafferty for the next qualifier so changes do need to be made. We go away for club football and the break in between can be two or three months.
This therefore is a welcome refresher, but we are looking for the performance first and foremost, something which can give us a boost ahead of the qualifiers restarting. I know people will say ‘it’s only a friendly’ and that it’s a grind to be away, but it’s always good to be part of the set-up.