Aaron Hughes bid an emotional farewell to football after Northern Ireland’s Euro 2020 qualifying win over Belarus.
The 39-year-old, who did not make the matchday squad for the game, told his team-mates in the dressing room of his decision to end a career in which he won 112 caps for his country, 48 of them as captain, and played at Euro 2016.
Though Hughes did not speak publicly, Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis – now only one cap behind Hughes after playing in the 1-0 win in Borisov – said: “Aaron spoke to us in the dressing room after the game and he was a little bit emotional, which is understandable.
“He has been a huge player for us over many years, such a consistent performer, and he will be remembered as a proper legend.”
The Cookstown-born player came through the ranks at Newcastle and played more than 200 games for the club before spells with Aston Villa and Fulham.
Later in his career, he spent time with QPR, Brighton, Melbourne City and the Kerela Blasters in India before heading to Hearts.
At Euro 2016 he became the first outfield Northern Irish player to earn 100 caps.
His last Northern Ireland appearance came in last summer’s trip to Central America, where he played in friendlies against Panama and Costa Rica.
But Hughes, who turns 40 in November, draws a line under his career after a season in which he played only seven times for Hearts, where he is out of contract this summer
“To keep playing for as long as he has and show the desire he has in recent years sets such a positive example to the other players, particularly the younger lads,” Davis added.
“Aaron still looks as if he could play on for a couple more years, but if he has made a decision to retire, we’ve got to respect that and wish him well.”