Veteran Hearts defender Aaron Hughes opens up on his trophy wait
While the 38-year-old is of no mind to get hung up about this state of affairs, he senses a chance to finally illuminate a stellar career at club and international level with some silverware.
If Hearts win at home to St Johnstone tomorrow, they will be in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup, potentially just three games from glory. With the on-form Tynecastle side among the favourites after eliminating Hibs in the last round, Hughes is aware of the chance that could open up for he and his team in the coming months if they can take care of Tommy Wright’s side for the second weekend in succession.
“As an older player, it would be a nice thing to have a trophy that I can look back on when I’m finished,” the 109-capped Northern Irishman told the Evening News. “For all the games and all the years and all the different things I’ve done, I’ve never been lucky enough to actually win a cup.
“I wouldn’t say it bothers me particularly because football’s not an individual sport, so there’s a lot of factors that go into winning things. In a Cup run, you often need a bit of luck with the draw and you also need a squad of players that, at that particular time, are good enough to win it. It’s just never happened for me, as is probably the case for a lot of people, so it would be nice to put a trophy in the cabinet.”
The closest Hughes has been to winning a major trophy thus far was in 2010 when he famously helped Roy Hodgson’s Fulham team defy the odds to reach the Europa League final before they lost 2-1 to Atlético Madrid in Hamburg.
“The Europa League with Fulham was the closest I’ve been so far,” said Hughes. “I had a couple of FA Cup and UEFA Cup semi-finals with Newcastle and I was on the bench for QPR in the play-off final a few years ago so I’ve been around those big matches but I’ve just never got my hands on anything. I’d love to be part of winning a trophy. It’s important for the whole club though – not just me.”
Hughes is well aware that Hearts supporters are craving their first notable Scottish Cup run since they won the tournament in 2012. He senses a desire in the dressing room to put that right this season and ensure the fanbase are reacquainted with showpiece occasions at Hampden. With Hearts currently fifth in the Premiership, Hughes is well aware that reaching the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup would inject their campaign with fresh excitement.
“It would be nice for everyone – for us and the fans – to get a good Cup run,” he said. “It’s a nice distraction, if you can call it that, from the usual week-to-week stuff in the league so it would be fantastic if we can keep the run going. It’s a cup game and there’s a big prize of a trophy at the end of it if you’re lucky enough to go all the way. That’s a huge thing to have at the end of a season. There are also big occasions that come with a long cup run. It’s a bit different to week-to-week league football because you know if you lose, you’re out. For those reasons, this is a big game.”
Unlike in England, where it is widely felt that the FA Cup has been devalued by the fact so many clubs field weakened teams in order to prioritise the league, the Scottish Cup retains its sense of gravitas in the eyes of most participants and the public. Hughes played the majority of his career at the top level down south and insists any perceived apathy from the big clubs towards the old tournament never had any adverse impact on the way in which he approached knockout competitions.
“There may be the perception that teams don’t take the FA Cup seriously because of the nature of the Premier League and how much teams value staying in it, but I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily the case,” he said. “When you’ve got a big squad, as most of those teams do, it’s an opportunity to play players who haven’t been playing regularly. That’s why the bigger teams get accused of not taking it seriously. But for me, there are only a handful of teams that can realistically win the Premier League, so for everyone else it’s a chance of a trophy. In a similar way up here, with Celtic dominating the league, the Scottish Cup is a chance of a trophy for everyone else.
“Personally, I always approach a cup game the same as a league game. That’s been the same at every club I’ve played at. When you play in the Premier League, rather than looking at what competition you’re playing in, you learn to prepare properly for every game regardless of who it’s against or what competition it is.”