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Former Ireland prop Jack McGrath to leave Ulster as province confirm end of season departures

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Ulster's Jack McGrath salutes the fans (Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

Ulster's Jack McGrath salutes the fans (Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

SPORTSFILE

Ulster's Jack McGrath salutes the fans (Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

Ulster have announced that former Ireland and British and Irish Lions loosehead prop Jack McGrath will leave the province at the end of the season.

The forward has battled hip injuries since he signed at Ravenhill at the start of the 2019-20 season and went under the knife in April 2021 to try and correct it, and was able to make a return for a brief period earlier this season.

However, McGrath will require additional surgery and, despite signing a one-year contract extension with the province in January, will not continue his time with Ulster beyond the end of the season.

The 32-year-old ends his time in Belfast having made only 24 appearances due to his injury problems and the Covid-19 pandemic but insists he has no plans on retiring.

“A big thanks goes to Ulster Rugby and the coaches during my time in Belfast. My team-mates became close friends and I will always value those friendships,” said McGrath.

“I will miss the incredible support of the Ulster fans, it’s a great feeling running out at Kingspan Stadium as a home player, and it’s a shame I can’t get the opportunity to say farewell.

“As for the future, I’m now a free agent and I have no intention of retiring. I face months of rehabbing in my battle for full fitness, but I am surrounded by a top-class team who will ensure I am in great shape to return to play. I am fully committed to becoming the first player in any sport to play at an elite level with two hip resurfacing operations.”

McGrath is joined by four other players in taking his leave from Ravenhill, with second rows Mick Kearney and Dave O’Connor and flanker Sean Reidy also departing, while tighthead prop Ross Kane was already confirmed to be joining Ealing Trailfinders.

None come as much of a surprise, although Reidy’s muted final season has come as something of a shock given his long service to Ulster as he heads back to New Zealand with over 150 caps under his belt over an eight-year stay in Belfast.

The back rower, who played on either flank or No.8, was a versatile and reliable option for the province every time he was called upon and even won two caps for Ireland between 2016 and 2017, but only made one appearance in his final season in the loss to Munster last month.

“It has been a privilege to represent the province and to have the opportunity to play for Ireland. Belfast has felt like home these past years, and we have made lifelong friendships. I leave this place with only good memories,” added Reidy.

Kane, who will join former Ulster team-mate Angus Kernohan at Championship side Ealing next season, ends his career with his home province with 60 caps after breaking through following a promising youth career that saw him captain the 2013 Schools’ Cup winning Methodist College side and represent the Irish Under-20s.

Always a solid operator when needed, especially at the set-piece, Kane found himself squeezed out by Wiehahn Herbst and Marty Moore during his time in the senior squad and this season dropped to fourth in the pecking order behind Moore, Tom O’Toole and Gareth Milasinovich.

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“Naturally it is a tough decision to leave your home club, but the time is right for me to move on and progress my career elsewhere. Over the eight years that I’ve spent at Ulster, there have been an incredible amount of highlights on and off the field with an amazing group of players,” he commented.

After spending the second half of the season on loan with Ealing, O’Connor will also move on from Ulster after his career never quite took off like brother Alan's, the younger sibling making just 15 appearances since his switch from All-Ireland League side Lansdowne three years ago.

“I made some incredible memories and friendships along the way. To be able to have played professionally with Alan was not just extremely special for me, but for my whole family. Something that will be hard to beat," said the 27-year-old.

Kearney, meanwhile, joined Ulster on a short-term deal earlier in the season due to injuries that ended up lasting the majority of the campaign, with the former Connacht, Leinster and Zebre man filling in for nine games across the course of the URC and European seasons.

“Ulster is a good club, full of good people, working hard to achieve a common goal. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to be a part of this group for the last twelve months, and I’ve no doubt there’s big days ahead for the club,” he said.

Head coach Dan McFarland added his thanks to the players who are moving on from Ravenhill, saying: “Thank you to Jack, Sean, Ross, Dave, and Mick for all that they have given to the Ulster jersey over the years.

“They can all leave proud in the knowledge that they have each made a significant contribution to our province, and the journey we are on as a squad – and I wish them the very best for the future on behalf of all the players and staff at the club.”


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