There were many highlights in the career of Declan Fitzpatrick who unfortunately was forced to announce his retirement from rugby on medical grounds on Thursday.
The tight head prop was part of the Ireland U21 team that reached the world cup final in 2004, finishing runners-up to the All Blacks.
He won seven senior caps for Ireland and represented Ulster on 98 occasions despite having to battle for the No3 shirt with the likes of BJ Botha and John Afoa.
Andre Bester, Fitzpatrick’s first coach when he came to Ireland to play at Belfast Harlequins, not only remembers him as a very good prop but also as a special person off the field.
“Alan Clarke discovered Declan playing in England and he was sent to me in 2001 as an 18 year old loose head prop,” recalled Bester.
“I remember his first match at Bangor for Quins and we got a terrible tanking in the scrum and I just told him to keep the faith, and that is how you learn your trade as a prop.
“Deccy was very unlucky not to get more caps for Ireland because I believe before he started to get injured he was technically the best prop in the country and should have been there on merit.
“He was unlucky at Ulster as he was behind a couple of overseas props,” he added.
“At Quins we called him Tanky (little tank) because he was so strong and was good at the hit.
“In the year we were promoted we had to play a crucial match at Ballynahinch and Deccy had to play at hooker, because he couldn’t throw we had to run everything and ended up winning easily. When he first came to Quins he was the groundsman with AJ Derwin and he was a very good person he was just unlucky and I always rated him very highly as a rugby player.”
Fitzpatrick learned his trade under Bester and started the 2004 U21 world cup final were he ironically faced John Afoa in the Baby Blacks front row. New Zealand won the game 47-19.
Fitzpatrick made his Ulster debut in a win against the Scarlets in 2006 and enjoyed a couple of injury-free seasons but was forced to miss almost all of the 2009 campaign due to injury.
After Afoa’s suspension in the Heineken Cup quarter final against Munster Fitzpatrick stated in the semi final against Edinburgh at the Aviva Stadium but returned to the bench for the Twickenham final against Leinster, coming on for the last six minutes.
Fitzpatrick won his first Ireland cap on the 2012 tour of New Zealand and three of his seven caps were to come against the All Blacks.
The 31 year old year was disappointed to have to call time on his career.
“While it’s not an easy decision to hang up the boots, I can look back with fondness at nine fantastic seasons at Ulster Rugby,” said Fitzpatrick. It was a huge honour to have represented my country and an enormous privilege to pull on that green shirt.
“I have played alongside some brilliant individuals and have made friendships that will extend long into my retirement from rugby.”