Ulster skipper Rory Best has vowed the squad will aim to see Tommy Bowe finish his final season as a professional on a high.
Best, who would have travelled with Bowe to Ireland underage and senior camps regularly, paid tribute to the talented winger after he announced on Monday night he would be retiring at the end of the year.
British Lion Bowe turned to poetry and letter writing to make his announcement.
Bowe, who is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury, but hopes to be back for the latter part of the season, told the News Letter in an exclusive interview that he was happy to be going out on his own terms.
Yesterday, in an Open Letter, he said: “As the saying goes, time stands still for no man (or sportsman). And so, 14 years on from signing my first professional contract with Ulster Rugby, I feel very fortunate to be able to say this will be my final season.
“I could never have imagined the career professional rugby has given me and I am so grateful to my close friends, family and agent Ryan Constable for their incredible support throughout the highs and lows. My beautiful wife Lucy has been my rock and little daughter Emma my newest inspiration.
“I want to thank everyone involved in Ulster Rugby, the Ospreys, Ireland and the British and Irish Lions for giving me the chance to live a dream I never thought possible. I’d also like to thank all those at Royal School Armagh, Queen’s University and Monaghan RFC minis, where it all began.
“To my teammates; the bond of going out onto the field together and the most special feeling in a changing room after a win are what I am going to treasure in the last few months as I will miss them most. I’ve met some incredible people and made friends that will hopefully last a lifetime.
“Lastly to you - the supporters - thank you for your backing throughout my career. From my singing Black Velvet Band (never again I promise!) to your continued messages of kindness and unwavering support, despite my injuries in latter years, I am eternally grateful.
“Who knows what the future will hold...
Definitely not singing!”
Among those paying tributes, current Ireland and Ulster captain Best described Bowe as an “honest, humble guy.”
“I’ve been fortunate to have played with Tommy for a very long time and we have shared some incredible times together in Ulster, Ireland and Lions jerseys.
“In my opinion, his qualities as a player are exceeded only by his qualities as a person. He is a genuine, honest, humble guy, and I have the utmost respect for him.
“Tommy is a key member of our leadership group at Ulster and he has continually led the way in terms of driving our standards on and off the pitch. He is the ultimate professional and he is the perfect example for any aspiring young player to follow.
“I’m sure Tommy would like nothing more than to finish this season on a high and that’s what we, as a collective, are aiming to do.”
Ulster CEO, Shane Logan, added: “For me, Tommy represents everything that is good about rugby - a man of integrity and respected throughout the world.”
Les Kiss, the current Ulster director of rugby, also worked with Bowe when he was defence coach at Ireland.
He said: “For Ulster, Tommy has been an outstanding servant. He tremendous leadership attributes have been a massive help to the playing group and he has mentored some young stars.
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt described Bowe as “a class act on and off the pitch.”