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Ulster's European Cup hero Bryn Cunningham retires

By Niall Crozier

Bryn Cunningham — the last still-playing member of Ulster’s 1999 European Cup-winning side — has announced his retirement.

The full-back, now 32, said it was the hardest thing he has ever had to do.

Cunningham has been plagued by a series of persistent injuries for the past 15 months and having tried and failed to make a full recovery, yesterday he announced his decision to call it a day.

An elbow injury gave way to a ruptured hamstring followed by a knee problem, which required surgery. That failed to solve the problem.

Until very recently the hugely popular Cunningham continued to believe that he could make a full recovery. Indeed, as recently as late August he travelled to Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium as the Ulster players’ representative at the launch of the 2010/11 Magners League series.

Nor did Ulster give up on him, a point they proved by naming Cunningham in their Magners League panel for the current season.

Significantly, however, when the names for the 2010/11 Heineken Cup squads were submitted, Cunningham was not one of them. It was beginning to look like his career was over.

In Cardiff back on August 24 he was philosophical about his prospects.

“I’ve been struggling for about a season and a half now and it’s been highly frustrating,” he said.

“I’ve been working hard but if I don't make it, then so be it.

“I’ve had a relatively serious operation and a decision will have to be made at some stage but I'm remaining focused and positive.

“I’m trying to get there but I may have a bit to go yet before I am fully fit.

“Hopefully I will get there eventually but if I can’t make it...well, that’s a decision that’s out of my control.”

At yesterday’s Heineken Cup launch in Dublin, a journalist — unaware of the full back’s imminent announcement — asked Ulster captain Rory Best if Cunningham ever teased the others in the Ravenhill camp about being the only European Cup winner amongst them.

“Bryn’s too good a guy to be reminding you of that,” Best replied.

“He’s a great guy and a great guy to have around the squad because he is such a genuinely nice fella. To have someone who has the experience of having won a European Cup around is invaluable.”

The last of Cunningham’s 150 appearances for Ulster in a competitive match was against Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade on September 6, 2009. Just short of the half-hour he picked up what now has proved to be a career-ending injury.

As well as making the grade as a professional rugby player the Bangor Grammar School and Trinity College Dublin-educated Cunningham played tennis, squash and cricket at representative level.

And having decided to major on rugby, he was just 19 when he made his Ulster debut against Wasps in 1997.

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