This week, at just 28, Luke Fitzgerald announced his retirement.
The Leinster star was forced to retire after a neck injury sustained in the Guinness PRO12 final against Connacht in May.
Fitzgerald came to prominence with the Blackrock College Senior Cup Team, where he won two Leinster Senior Cups, and he was subsequently named the 2005 Irish Examiner Young Rugby Player of the Year.
He would eventually follow in the footsteps of his father Des, who represented Ireland 34 times as a prop. Luke received his first senior international cap at just 19, and never looked back.
Before his 22nd birthday, he’d won the Heineken Cup with Leinster, and also helped Ireland win their first Grand Slam in 61 years.
The Leinster star possessed one of the best sidesteps in the game, and was known affectionately as ‘Pivot’ as a result. He made his Leinster debut in 2016, on the day of his Leaving Cert results, and has been a crucial player for the Blues in the decade since when fit.
Fitzgerald’s career was plagued with injuries, but the former Blackrock student’s talent could never be questioned, and he has earned the right to be remembered as one of the best Irish wingers to ever represent either Leinster or Ireland.
Upon his retirement, the former rugby player said;
“I’ve had a wonderful rugby career which makes it easy for me to move on to the next stage of my life. It’s been an amazing journey in which I got to experience the highs and lows that come with professional sport and I have learned a huge amount from each experience.”
“It’s been an honour and a privilege to represent my province, my country and the British and Irish Lions during my career and I’m glad to finish my career as a ‘one club man’.”
Unsurprisingly, tributes have come pouring in from fans and fellow players alike at the news of Luke’s retirement.
His Leinster boss Leo Cullen said;
“He has had an incredible career achieving almost everything there is to achieve in rugby. He will go down as one of the greatest wingers to have represented Leinster and Ireland.”
The Dubliner was seen by some as Brian O’ Driscoll’s eventual successor, given their similar development, both coming through Blackrock college into the Leinster side. Indeed, they played together in midfield at times in 2008, notably against the All Blacks.
His driving runs and dancing pirouettes in the number 11 jersey will long be remembered by the Leinster faithful, as will his excellent tackling ability.
Despite his injuries, there were periods when Fitzgerald’s influence could not be underestimated, such as his fantastic performance coming off the bench against Argentina in last year’s World Cup.
Fitzgerald will hang up his boots with 142 Leinster caps amassed, as well as 34 Irish caps, and one appearance for the Lions in South Africa.
He should have earned far more caps and plaudits, but his long list of injuries refused to subside. Regardless, he deserves to be remembered as one of the most talented Irish rugby players of the decade.