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Grace Davitt closes the curtain on her Ireland career

By Frank Brownlow

Grace Davitt's retirement from international rugby has prompted a flood of tributes. The 31-year-old was a cornerstone of Ireland's most successful ever team, winning the Grand Slam last year before reaching the World Cup semi-finals.

Ireland recorded an historic victory over holders New Zealand en route to the semi-finals where they were beaten by eventual champions England before being edged out by hosts France in the battle for third place.

Grace, who plays her club rugby for Cooke, also played in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.

Tributes and best wishes poured in last night on Twitter, team-mates and opponents praising Grace's contribution to the game.

There were tweets from Ulster Rugby and the IRFU.

A theme running through the tweets was the fact that Grace, given her experience and exemplary attitude, still has so much to offer the sport.

Ireland's 2013 Six Nations Grand Slam propelled the women's game in this country into the limelight with Grace playing a crucial role in that stunning achievement.

The Irish had never previously finished better than third in the tournament.

First capped for Ireland in 2005, Grace established herself at centre, proving to be one of the best tacklers in the game.

She quickly became one of the first names on the teamsheet, winning her 50th cap - against Italy - earlier this year.

Grace made four successive starts in a centre partnership with Lynne Cantwell at the World Cup.

"My first cap was in 2005 and back then we were lucky to win one or two games in the Six Nations. For us to go and win the Grand Slam was just unthinkable," she said.

"When I first started, people didn't know women played rugby, so for matches to be televised and for us to play at stadiums like Twickenham and the Aviva, it promotes the game in a great light and suddenly young girls have something to aspire to.

"The women's game has exploded with the number of girls playing - and playing at a younger age," added the world-class centre.

Grace has witnessed many changes in the game during her long and illustrious career.

"In the years that I've been playing, the difference in terms of support that's there and the professionalism is unbelievable," she said.

"Our management team is amazing - the amount of work they put in behind the scenes to get us to where we are.

"We now have regular skills and strength and conditioning sessions which are carried out provincially, in addition to our squad sessions as a group."

Grace works as a maintenance technician for Belfast Harbour Commissioners - and she was quick to thank her employers for their understanding over the years.

"Rugby is your life - it takes over. Work is brilliant in facilitating time off, but a lot of us have to save up annual leave to use it for tournaments such as the Six Nations," she explained.

"You train in the morning, go to work and then train again in the evening and go to bed.

"That's what you have to do to be the best that you possibly can so you give every free moment to rugby," she said.

Grace Davitt has set the bar high for Ireland's current and future internationals.

Belfast Telegraph

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