The Lions loose-forward suffered serious ankle damage in Pro12 action for Ulster against Edinburgh in November 2012. The 28-year-old fought back to make three Ulster appearances this term, but has since suffered a recurrence of the issue.
The 35-cap back-rower had hoped to shake off the problem once and for all and secure a new Ravenhill deal, yet he has now been forced to admit defeat.
Ferris said yesterday: “I want to thank the IRFU as well as the strength and conditioning coaches and medical team at Ulster Rugby, for all their hard work, patience and backing over the past year and a half.
“I have had a great career, met many wonderful people and I hang up the boots with no regrets.”
Fearless Ferris had it all. Pace to burn, good hands, quick feet, a great rugby brain, was an excellent lineout option and, most of all, an outstanding tackler.
It was his most recent ankle injury that ended his career.
I remember him taking the tumble on the stand side of the old Ravenhill arena just after half-time when Ulster were looking to put on a massive score against Edinburgh.
He had just returned in 2012 from yet another problem with the knee he injured during the 2009 Lions tour to South Africa. And despite numerous operations, his time had run out.
“To be honest, I was never out of the woods at any time,” said Ferris yesterday.
“A lot of the fans were thinking ‘Stevie is going to come back and pick up where he left off.’ But that’s not the case. I played a few games to try and get a bit of momentum and get myself back into it, but the ankle was sore.”
Ferris knew his time was up when his surgeon Andy Adair, a former Ireland B and Ulster hooker, told him the painful truth that there was no going back.
“The fact is, the ankle been sore over the last 18 months. It was a case of how long could I dig in for. However, when I saw the surgeon and he said look your ankle isn’t going to get any better, that’s when reality dawned, about three weeks ago.
“I’ve had three surgeries on my right ankle, it’s scarred and I have very limited range in it. I have feet problems, I have nerve damage in my toes, I have a lot of issues which, with a couple of months rest and doing absolutely nothing, it will settle down.”
Ferris joined Ulster’s Academy in 2005 and immediately impressed, first with the full Ulster side in October 2005, then with Ireland a year later when he made his debut against the Pacific Islands at Lansdowne Road. Two years later he was certain of a Lions Test place after scoring a wonder breakaway try in a midweek game against the Golden Lions before he ruptured his medial lateral ligament in his right knee, an injury that was saw him pack his bags for home, and a long route back to fitness.
Ulster rugby director David Humphreys admitted the bullish back-rower was earmarked for stardom from the very start.
“I’d like to thank Stephen for the outstanding contribution he has made to Ulster Rugby,” said Humphreys.
“We knew from the day and hour that he walked into the Academy that he was an exceptional talent. Through dedication and hard work, he developed into one of the best forwards in the world game.
“He has always played an important leadership role within the squad and he helped mentor and inspire others.
“While we are sorry to be losing Stephen, we recognise and celebrate the exceptional rugby career that he has had and wish him every success in the future.”