'An Ulster legend': Praise pours in as fan favourite Darren Cave announces retirement
There were plenty of calls for him to be handed a new Ulster contract after his display in the province's European Champions Cup quarter-final defeat to Leinster on Saturday evening.
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So, as expected, there has been widespread disappointment over Darren Cave's decision to retire from rugby at the end of the season.
The 31-year-old has become a firm fans' favourite during his 225 caps, with more to follow before the campaign's conclusion.
Since he announced his departure by way of an open letter to supporters on Wednesday morning, praise has been flooding in, led by Ulster captain Rory Best.
“Cavey and I have played together for over a decade, so he is a player and person who I know very well and have great respect for," Best said.
“His career will be remembered for the big performances he produced when we needed them most, and also for the passion and commitment he demonstrated in the process. It’s no surprise that he’s a popular member of the squad and a favourite among the Ulster supporters.
“Darren is a brilliant ambassador for Ulster Rugby and he has done a great deal for the local community, particularly with his charity work and his support for disability sport.
“He is a great role model for not only the inexperienced members of our squad, many of whom he has taken time to mentor, but also for aspiring young players who dream of representing Ulster.
“We have a hugely important end to the season upon us and we are all determined to make Darren’s remaining time at Ulster as successful as possible.”
Ulster Rugby Operations Director Bryn Cunningham echoed those sentiments.
“Cavey will go down as one of Ulster’s finest ever centres," he said. "Without doubt, he is a player who did not get the recognition he fully deserved in what has been a brilliant career.
“It is his rugby nous and outstanding defensive communication that I will remember most. I always feel comfortable when he is named in the team, as he brings experience and intelligence to those around him."
Former Ireland international Bernard Jackman said Cave is "always a feared but respected opponent and someone that portrayed the values of the game superbly off the pitch."
And Ireland cricketer Gary Wilson, who has been announced as the new captain of the Northern Knights, said Cave is retiring 'an Ulster legend'.
Fans, of course, joined in the chorus of praise as Marc Neill highlighted the three aspects that make Cave's game as special as it is: "1. Deceptive speed 2. Great defensive leader 3. Runs great lines. Ideally suited to 13! Well played Cavey! All the best going forward!"
Stephen McCormick said the manner of Cave's retirement announcement highlighted his charactertistics as 'a gentleman and very loyal Ulsterman', while Ally Beare said that centre has been a 'fantastic servant' to the province. "You will be missed," Beare continued. "You will always be remembered for being a fantastic centre, and for scoring 4 tries against international opposition! Best of luck!"
Stephen Rosbotham concluded: "Gutted that you've decided to retire Darren, you've been a fans favourite for your love, hard shifts and dedication to the @UlsterRugby club. You will be missed but I wish you nothing but the very best for your future endeavours wherever that may take you THANKS #SUFTCAVEMAN".
Belfast Telegraph Digital