Billy Holland put slow start behind him to leave his mark on Munster

Secondrow will retire as the province’s second most capped player

Billy Holland’s announcement that he is retiring at the end of the season will bring to an end one of the most durably defiant and honest-as-the-day-is-long Irish careers in professional rugby.

The 35-year-old operated in the shadow of some of the legends of the game in Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan and Donnacha Ryan, but Johann van Graan was by no means stretching things when using a similar adjective to describe Holland.

A classic product of CBC Cork, UCC and Cork Con who joined the Munster academy 16 seasons ago, Holland’s was a slow-burning career when you consider that having made his debut against the Scarlets in September 2007, he made only 20 appearances over his first three seasons.

He only appeared in two Heineken Cup ties during his first four seasons as a professional, and admitted he considered moving elsewhere, yet recently overtook Ronan O’Gara as the second-most capped Munster player of all time with 241 appearances.

A leader, a lineout caller, a 100 per cent man, a top bloke, a thorough pro and no doubt an example to all in their HPC base, Holland probably played his best rugby in his 30s. He won’t catch O’Callaghan (268) now and the pity is there will be no crowds to see him off, but Munster have one more reason to win a trophy this season.