Andrew Trimble, one of the most popular figures on and off the pitch is to retire from playing at the end of the season.
Ulster’s most capped player of all-time announced to fans in an open letter yesterday that he had decided he was calling it a day - even though he still has another year of his contract to run.
He is the third player at the Province to announce he will retire at the end of the season, Tommy Bowe and Paul Marshall having previously confirmed they were hanging the boots up.
Trimble, a product of Coleraine Academical Institution (now Coleraine Grammar School), had played 229 times for his Province and has 70 international caps with Ireland.
The enduring winger, who has scored 385 points for Ulster, has not featured as prominently this season as in the past.
He has made 12 appearances, the last of those against Scarlets in Llanelli in February.
The emergence of Jacob Stockdale this season has limited the appearance time for both Trimble and Bowe.
And while fans got the opportunity to give Bowe and Marshall - and others who are leaving at the end of the season - a rousing send-off in the last game of the Guinness PRO14’s regular league season, they would want to do the same for Trimble.
Currently Ulster have a European Champions Cup play-off game against Ospreys to play on the weekend of May 19.
There are still some permutations which could happen which would negate the need for Ulster to play that game - but those have become more unlikely.
That would leave the Province with one final home game to complete their season and while Trimble has not been first choice in the coaches eyes in recent months - he could yet get the opportunity to make one last stand for a club he has remained loyal to since making his first appearance in 2005.
Trimble’s respect for the support he has received from the terraces over the years, home and away and in any weather was reflected yesterday when he chose to make his retirement announcement via an open letter to fans.
In that he said: “I know that I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have realised not one of my dreams, but two of them; to play for Ulster and to play for Ireland.
“These have been some of the most fulfilling days of my life and I feel nothing but gratitude for them.
“But there’s no way of stopping time – and I see that each day in the lives of my two young children, who are now close to beating me over five metres.
“So I wanted to let you know that this will be my last season playing professional rugby.
“I want to thank the club for allowing me the time and space to think things through before making what is probably the toughest decision that any professional sportsman will make.
“Most of all, I want to thank you – the loyal and dedicated supporters of this special club.
“I know that nothing will come close to the experience of taking the field and hearing you raise your voices in support of the team.
You stood up for me; I only hope that I stood up for you.”
In tribute to Trimble, Bryn Cunningham, Ulster’s Operations Director, said:
“Andrew has been a class act both on and off the pitch. He has been a great ambassador for Ulster Rugby, having done much to promote our work in the community and to inspire future generations of rugby players from across the nine counties.”
“I was still playing here when Andrew first joined the squad and it’s been fantastic to follow his journey to becoming the highest-capped Ulster player of all time - a remarkable achievement! He has delivered some incredible performances in both the Ulster and Ireland jerseys over the years and he can be justifiably proud of his playing career.
“I know that Andrew will be successful in whatever career he chooses next, and I wish him, Anna, Jack and Molly well in this new chapter for them.”
Shane Logan, Ulster’s Chief Executive, added:
“I’d like to thank Andrew for his wonderful service to rugby in Ulster over the past 13 years. He has been an inspiration for so many young players across the Province, due to his uncompromising playing style but also his kind nature and infectious personality.
“I know that he will continue to support Ulster in the years ahead and I wish him well in the years ahead.”