Written by Robert Sutherland

It's hard to believe that Michael Hughes has retired. How could it be? A pitbull of a midfielder, the Northern Ireland international had boundless energy and a limitless appetite for the game -- even to this day, at the age of 44, you could still see him running Palace's midfield with gritted teeth and clenched fists.

Hughes and Crystal Palace shared a brief, memorable moment in history - like that unforgettable summer romance - he arrived at the club in 2003 having spent a year out of the game following a contract dispute with Birmingham City, and promptly provided the drive in Palace's midfield to gain the most unpredictable of promotions.

The beauty in his interview with PalaceTV is that, despite all-too-brief three-season romance, Hughes clearly considers that point in his career to be his pinnacle. The interview is tinged with regret - his recollection of the Southampton game for example, spiked by the anecdote that he couldn't leave his home for three days, is a sore reminder of what could have been.

He speaks with fondness as he remembers the promotion season - Iain Dowie, John Harbin, Aki Riihilahti - characters that helped shape one of the most memorable seasons in Palace's recent history. A timely reminder of just how the Palace spirit - that never-say-die attitude and unity - can live on to foster prosperity. That season was remarkable - Palace went from relegation-candidates to play-off winners in half a season - and Harbin's influence on the attitude and aptitude of the side clearly left its mark.

 

 

The real sadness in all of this comes when Hughes talks of leaving the club - against his wishes - following the departure of Dowie. While he respects Peter Taylor, the move to Coventry that followed seemed to leave a void - one which left him disillusioned to the point of retiring at the end of that season. It was, he says, his biggest regret - he could and should have played a couple of seasons more. After the whirlwind of promotion, relegation and a further promotion bid, you could forgive him for feeling that he needed a break - but he clearly wishes he could revisit that decision.

The remarkable point to Hughes however is that, no matter what he applies himself to - be it his contract dispute, his playing career or his role as Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Football League side Carrick Rangers - he does it with a commitment and wholeheartedness. He has an infectious commitment to excellence. A knowledge of the game. A vision for the future of it.

You can sense, throughout, that the fire which powered the engine room of Palace's midfield continues to burn with a passion for the game. It's great to see that Hughes is still making an impact wherever he goes. His influence at Palace - for that heady promotion season alone - has left an imprint. He's a hero to all of us who saw him play.

Click here to watch the full interview now...you won't be disappointed!!

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