Retiring was for the best but not easy, says Ulster and Ireland prop Declan Fitzpatrick
Ulster and Ireland prop Declan Fitzpatrick has spoken of how difficult it has been to walk away from the game after being forced to retire on medical advice following a series of concussions.
The 31-year-old, who was two games short of making his 100th Ulster appearance, and whose playing career with the province was frequently blighted by various injury issues, had not featured in the side since last January's record European defeat in Toulon.
"I will miss the good times immensely," Fitzpatrick said.
"While it's not an easy decision to hang up the boots, I can look back with fondness at nine fantastic seasons at Ulster.
"My symptoms continue to improve and I know the advice that I received is in the best interests of my long-term health.
England-born Fitzpatrick won seven caps for Ireland with his last appearance being in November 2013's dramatic defeat to the All Blacks at the Aviva. He had another season to go on the IRFU contract he signed in January 2014.
It had been thought that he might provide regular back-up for Mike Ross, and possibly even replace the veteran prop, but the onset of concussion issues saw him lose ground and miss his chance.
Fitzpatrick also had a heart scare last season which was attributed to his intake of caffeine prior to playing in Glasgow in April's PRO12 game.
A hugely promising player, he was also a member of the Ireland Under-21 team which made it to 2004's underage World Cup final where they lost to New Zealand and had been tipped to have a bright future in the game until a combination of injuries, and other props being brought in ahead of him at Ulster, impeded his progress.
"I want to thank the medical teams at Ulster Rugby and the IRFU for the care that they have given me and the IRUPA (Irish Rugby Union Players' Association) who have been a great support in recent seasons and who have helped me make the transition from playing to my new job as a quantity surveyor," he said.
It has been reported that Fitzpatrick picked up another head injury after featuring as a replacement in the 60-22 reverse at Toulon. Though this was never confirmed, a statement issued by Ulster Rugby said he had been referred to a neurologist after his symptoms had become "progressively slower to resolve."
The statement added that after a series of tests, it was then recommended to Fitzpatrick that "it would be in his best long-term interests to stop playing."
Meanwhile, Craig Gilroy has been nominated for this year's Irish Rugby Players' Association Try of the Year for his dazzling effort against the Scarlets at the Kingspan while Callum Black is up for the Unsung Hero Award.
ulster Ravens defeated Munster A 15-13 in last night's friendly at Banbridge with tries from Ricky Andrew and Frank Taggart and a late penalty from Michael Heaney.