Father's hopes for 'football fairytale'

THE father of Northern Ireland football captain Aaron Hughes admits it would be a "fantastic moment" if his son were to emerge victorious in the "biggest game" of his career.

The Cookstown-born defender and his international teammate, Chris Baird, are part of the Fulham squad gearing up for the Europa League final against Atletico Madrid in Germany this evening.

Proud father Ronnie Hughes will be cheering from the stands at the Nordbank Arena in Hamburg when his 30-year-old son takes to the pitch.

Also inside the stadium offering their vocal support will be Aaron's mum, Evelyn, his siblings, Ian and Lee, alongside his wife, Samantha, and two young daughters, Keira and Leila.

After a remarkable journey to the final, when against all the

odds Fulham have defeated some of the most recognisable names in European football, Ronnie is hoping the "fairytale journey" will finish with a winning climax.

The oil delivery man remains optimistic his son will be in a jubilant mood when he speaks to him again after tonight's match.

"I last spoke with him on Monday. I just wished him all the best and told him to go out and enjoy it no matter what the outcome is," he said.

"He should savour the moment as matches like this don't come along very often.

"It is one of the biggest games he will ever play in. It will rank

alongside playing against and beating Spain and England for Northern Ireland."

Hughes, who has won 71 caps for his country, will wear the number 18 shirt for Fulham in his usual superstitious practice as he aims to keep a clean sheet against his Spanish opponents.

Mr Hughes added: "He (Aaron) is pretty confident without being

over confident. They've come through some tough matches and the spirit is good in the team.

"I don't think he ever thought they would ever come this far with the squad they have. Once they beat Juventus they began to really feel they could go the whole way."

The former Coagh United player has been a mainstay of Roy Hodgson's side in recent seasons and his father is daring to dream what his emotions would be, should Fulham - despite being underdogs - lift the trophy at the end of the 90 minutes.

"It would be something you could not put into words. It would just be a fantastic moment for myself and the rest of the family - hopefully it can happen."

Mr Hughes added: "It's going to be hard but fingers crossed they can go all the way. To get even to the final, it has been a fairytale journey for them."

Meanwhile, Cookstown councillor Trevor Wilson described the Fulham defender as an "ambassador" for the Mid Ulster area.

Wishing the Cookstown native good luck ahead of tonight's match, the UUP man said: "Aaron has progressed brilliantly from his days in the Boys' Brigade to reach the dizzy heights of a European cup final."

- Kick off at the Nordbank Arena is at 7.45pm. The match will be

televised live on Channel Five.