Declan Fitzpatrick retires due to series of concussions

Ulster prop leaves game on medical advice having won seven caps for Ireland

Happenstance. In June 2004, Ireland and New Zealand contested the under-21 Rugby World Championship final at Hughenden in Glasgow. Declan Fitzpatrick was at tighthead for Ireland, Craig Clarke played lock for the opposition, who won 47-19.

Last summer, Clarke, in his first season with Connacht, was forced to retire from rugby after suffering reportedly his 10th concussion in two years, sustained the previous January in a match against Saracens. On Thursday, Fitzpatrick announced his retirement as a result of a series of concussive episodes. They are both 31.

Fitzpatrick steps away on medical advice, following Bernard Jackman (2010), John Fogarty (2010) and David Quinlan (2007) to name three other Ireland internationals. He does so following a career that saw him win seven Ireland caps – three against New Zealand – and play for Ulster 98 times.

Born in Birmingham – his mum and dad come from Galway and Mayo respectively – he grew up in a household where Irish was spoken and he played Gaelic football. At school soccer was the preferred sport and it was only by chance that he popped along to Moseley rugby club as a 15-year-old.


England trial

An England triallist at under-16 level he admitted: “I had no interest in playing for England and instead took up an invitation to join the Irish Exiles set-up.

Allen Clarke

told me that he was setting up an academy [in Ulster]. He asked me was I interested in coming over. I was 17 at the time, had left school and was not sure what I wanted to do. It sounded like a great opportunity.

“I played for Belfast Harlequins and worked as a groundsman there at the same time. Then I went to university and got into the national academy alongside Rory [Best]. From there I got a got a one-year development contract and it took off from there.”

Although bedevilled by injury, there was no doubting his ability; powerful in the scrum and a marauding presence in the loose. In recent seasons he suffered a number of concussive incidents and was referred to a leading neurologist, who advised him to retire.

‘Huge honour’

He admitted: “While it’s not an easy decision to hang up the boots, I can look back with fondness at nine fantastic seasons at Ulster. 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. I want to thank the medical teams at Ulster Rugby and the IRFU for the care that they have given me. My symptoms continue to improve and I know the advice that I received is in the best interests of my long-term health.

“Finally, I would like to thank the staff at Irupa who have been a great support in recent seasons and who have helped me make the transition from playing rugby to my new job as a quantity surveyor.”

Quite apart from his ability, Fitzpatrick is eminently likeable, leading Ulster's Bryn Cunningham to say, "he will be missed both on and off the pitch and I know everyone connected at Ulster, players, management and supporters will wish him well in his retirement."

Four others who have been forced to retire due to head injuries

Shontayne Hape

The former dual international who played rugby league for New Zealand (14) and rugby union for England (13) retired in January 2014 having played his last match the previous May. His union career included spells with Bath, London Irish and Montpellier. He said at the time: “My memory was shot. The specialist explained that my brain was so traumatised, had swollen so big, that even just getting a tap to the body would knock me out. I had to retire immediately. I was thinking I’d rest for a year and then make a comeback. That’s why I never told anyone I was retired. I still couldn’t accept it was over.”

Craig Clarke

The New Zealand born secondrow made a huge impression on joining Connacht from the Chiefs at the start of the 2013-2014 season, having previously led the Super 15 franchise to back-to-back titles. In December 2013, he took over the captaincy at the Irish province and led them to their most famous victory, a

Heineken Cup

pool win over Toulouse at the Stade Ernest-Wallon. However, after another European tie in January, against Saracens he suffered a staggering 10th concussion in two years, and was forced to take an indefinite break initially. He retired the following summer.

Bernard Jackman

The Grenoble coach retired from a rugby career in 2010 that saw him win nine caps for Ireland, a Heineken Cup with Leinster, having previously played with Connacht and the Sale Sharks. By his own reckoning the former hooker suffered a concussive incident on 22 occasions during the last three years of his career, having suffered a first in 2004 when he was knocked unconscious and stretchered from the pitch. He is an acting ambassador for Acquired Brain Injury Ireland and took part in their Mind Your Head in Sport campaign.

John Fogarty

He played for three of the four Irish provinces Munster (6), Connacht (107) and Leinster (44) while winning one Ireland cap and also lining out for the Ireland A side on 12 occasions. The hooker joined Leinster in time for the province’s first Heineken Cup triumph but by November 2010 had announced his retirement from rugby as he struggled to come to terms with the massively debilitating side effects of repeated concussions, something he spoke about with refreshing candour in an article with

Brendan Fanning

. He is now an IRFU Development officer and assistant coach to the Ireland under-20 team.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer