Former A-League defender on his Euro 2016 'highlight'

Aaron Hughes barely played for Melbourne City in the Hyundai A-League but his berth in Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 squad was never truly under threat.

The veteran defender has claimed Northern Ireland coach Michael O'Neill was unconcerned about Hughes' lack of game time in the 2015-16 A-League season, and had told him "just stay fit" and he would play at the European Championships.

Although Hughes struggled with a calf injury throughout last season before being released at the end of his Australian campaign, he put in an impressive display in Northern Ireland's maiden win at a major tournament last week.

Hughes made just six A-League appearances for City.

"[My time at City] maybe didn't work out quite as well or as good as I'd hoped, just in terms of game time and playing, but that's where Michael's been really good. He's been really, really supportive," Hughes told Goal.com.

"He was always in contact even though I was over there. He said 'just keep fit, just stay fit' and when you get to my age, I think he sort of knew what he was going to get from me. I'm not going to all of a sudden start beating wingers, you know, beating defenders.

"So I think it was just important that I just kept myself in good condition and stayed fit, and hope that would be enough to get me in the squad, which it did."

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The 36-year-old paid tribute to the staff at City for helping him maintain his fitness during his time in Australia.

Hughes played a full match as Northern Ireland defeated Ukraine 2-0 on June 16, with the former Premier League defender impressing at right-back against highly-rated winger Yevhen Konoplyanka.

"It's the highlight of my career so far," Hughes said of the victory.

The 101-cap veteran added: "When I look back and I think I wasn't too sure what the future was going to hold, and to be stood here now, I think that's what makes it really satisfying."

Having been left out of O'Neill's XI for Northern Ireland's 1-0 loss to Poland, which began their Euro 2016 campaign, Hughes is hopeful he will get a chance to play world champions Germany on Tuesday in his country's third match in Group C.