Aaron Hughes has revealed it was Northern Ireland’s run to the last 16 at Euro 2016 that convinced him to prolong his international career.
The 36-year-old was without a club when he arrived in France for his country’s first major tournament in 30 years and was contemplating whether he would bow out having just reached the 100-cap landmark.
However, having played in three of the four games for Michael O’Neill’s men, veteran Hughes found the experience a rejuvenating one that swayed him to stay on for the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.
“I was half thinking about calling it a day after the Euros because I didn’t know how it was going to go,” the former Newcastle, Fulham and Melbourne defender admitted.
“But being involved in it and having played and getting the desire back and playing in those big stadiums, it lit the fire again and I was like, ‘I can’t retire’. I went back and said, ‘We aren’t staying in Australia, I have to keep playing’. And then it was a case of seeing what my options were.
“It went beyond my expectations and dreams and after that I thought I missed this and decided that I wanted to do this as long as I could, as long as the body allowed me to, so then my plans changed and I looked at the options open to me.”
A return to England was on the table thanks to new Oldham boss and former Northern Ireland assistant Stephen Robinson but the thought of the three-month Indian Super League and being captain of the Sachin Tendulkar-owned Kerala Blasters was too alluring.
Crowds of 60,000 provide Hughes with the type of atmosphere he and his Northern Ireland colleagues sampled at the Euros and the 103-cap international has been fascinated by other aspects of life on the subcontinent, particularly when it comes to the rules, or lack of, on the road.
“There is just one main road and everyone uses it,” added Hughes, who favours beat-up old cabs over air-conditioned Ubers.
“If you are walking to school you use it, lorries use it, if you are pulling a cart you use it, animals use it and the cow up there is worshipped. It is a sacred animal so it does what it wants. It could be lying in the middle of the road. No one moves it; you drive around it. There are no rules on the road.
“That is the way of life and within the chaos it is just normal and everyone gets on with it. You have some of the nicest people you have ever met, so nice, so respectful and it is just the way of life.
“I’m there for the football but after it when I look back on it I think it will be one of the best experiences of my life. Iam enjoying it here and it has opened my eyes to another part of the world.”