Shane Horgan called time on his illustrious playing career yesterday due to injury as team-mates, past and present, hailed his contribution to both Leinster and Irish rugby.
The former British & Irish Lions wing officially announced his retirement with immediate effect at the age of 33, having failed to regain full fitness following surgery on a long-term knee injury.
It is the second premature retirement of an Irish Test player this month, following Grand Slam-winning hooker Jerry Flannery’s decision to call it quits due to injury last week.
Yet, as the tributes were ringing in his ears, Horgan described himself as “very lucky” to have enjoyed the career he had, winning 65 Ireland caps and making 207 appearances for Leinster.
Described by Leinster captain Leo Cullen yesterday as “the heart and soul of the Leinster team”, Horgan said: “Every professional sportsman realises that, at some point, their career will come to an end. I have been extremely fortunate to have played regularly for my province and with Ireland since my debut with Leinster in 1998 and, while I am disappointed that injury has forced me to retire now, I know I have been very lucky to have had such a long and largely injury-free career.”
Cullen said Horgan was the ultimate team player and added: “It’s a sad day for us. It sends an empty feeling through me. He’s been [the] heart and soul of [the] Leinster team.”
Horgan, a former Meath minor footballer, won two Celtic League titles with Leinster and two Heineken Cups, the latter in 2011, his 80-minute appearance in the remarkable victory over Northampton proving to be the penultimate game of his career.
“He’ll always have that memory and did incredibly well to be fit for that match,” Leinster and Ireland scrum-half, Eoin Reddan, said. “He really played some great rugby last year when he probably had no right to. His knee was at him for a while coming into that match, but he still performed, which shows his mental strength.
“That’s something not everyone has. To be able to play at that level when you have an injury and to focus on what you’re good at even though there are certain things you can’t do in a game. He still pulled off a lot of big plays in those matches that helped us win them.
“He’ll be a massive loss to the team and the dressing room. He was an incredibly successful player and he didn’t fade away. Right up to the last second he was still involved and pumping away. He went out with a bang really.”
Horgan’s 13-year professional career saw him make 87 Heineken Cup appearances, scoring 27 tries in the competition out of a total of 71 for the province. His longevity made him the first Leinster player to reach 200 caps, the last of his 207 appearances coming a week after that Heineken Cup success, in the 2011 Magners League final defeat by Munster at Thomond Park.
Just as he had scored on his Leinster debut in 1998, he repeated the feat in his first Test appearance, against Scotland in 2000, and scored the last of his 21 international tries in his 65th and final appearance, against Fiji in November 2009.
In between came two Rugby World Cups, in 2003 and 2007, and a role in three Triple Crown successes praised by former Ireland team-mate Frankie Sheahan.
“Shane Horgan is one of the greatest wingers this country has ever had,” Sheahan said. “He epitomised the ‘Golden Generation’. I was on the bench when he got his first cap and I played U21s with Shane, we won a Triple Crown together.
“He wasn’t just a team-mate, I’d consider him a very good friend as well. It’s disappointing it’s an injury that has caused it but he’s had a great career as well. He’s done more in his time than most other fellas have done. It’s always disappointing when it comes to the end, I had a similar one myself, but the show goes on and he’s a good guy, he’s doing well in his punditry and I wish him the best of luck.”
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt also paid tribute, saying Horgan would “go down as one of the greats of Leinster and Irish rugby”. “He was a strong leader within the group whose contribution off the field mirrored his many feats on it. “It was great to be involved with Shane last season where his performances contributed so much to the success of the team. It was fitting that his final season culminated in a second Heineken Cup success.
“The last year has been a frustrating one for Shane with knee surgery and long of rehabilitation. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, he has been unable to regain full fitness. It is testament to Shane that his professionalism and influence have continued to impact positively on the group this season.
“Shane’s retirement will no doubt leave a void in the group, but I know that his legacy of excellence and athleticism will continue to inspire future generations and we wish him all the best in the future.”
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