With 154 appearances for his club and 32 tries to boot, many feel that injury robbed him of a lot more success but Fitzgerald is happy to be walking away from rugby having committed his entire career to Leinster and Ireland.
“I’ve had a wonderful rugby career which makes it easy for me to move on to the next stage of my life.” Fitzgerald stated, “It’s been an amazing journey in which I got to experience the highs and lows that come with professional sport and I have learned a huge amount from each experience.”
The 28-year- old missed Ireland’s recent tour to South Africa due to a neck injury sustained in the PRO12 final loss to Connacht and it was one injury too many as he has been advised to retire on medical grounds. During his decorated career, the Leinster and Ireland winger managed to win three PRO12 titles, three Heineken Cups, a Grand Slam in 2009, a Challenge Cup in 2013, a Six Nations title in 2015 as well as winning a cap during the British and Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa in between his bouts with injury.
When fully fit, Fitzgerald’s elusive running made him a handful for defenders, as seen when he scored a hat-trick against Northampton in December 2013, his brace of tries against Italy in 2009 and last year’s World Cup defeat to Argentina when he scored a try and assisted Jordi Murphy for another.
The Blackrock College man made his debut for Ireland against the Pacific Islands in 2006 at the age of 19, making him the youngest Irish debutant in 29 years. He went on to play for Ireland 34 times, scoring 4 tries along the way and tributes to what he contributed have been pouring in. Not least from his team mates, with Ian Madigan tweeting: “The most talented player I have ever played alongside”.
Leinster coach Leo Cullen also paid homage, hailing him “one of the greatest wingers to represent Leinster and Ireland. “I actually coached Luke before I ever became a team mate of his, when I helped out with the Blackrock College senior team in 2004. Although I spent the majority of my time with the forwards, you could clearly see even then as a fourth year, that Luke was a special talent.”
Former team-mate Gordon D’Arcy acknowledged the threat he posed in attack, tweeting: “Best left step in the business and all round great guy.”
With the list of injuries that pock-marked his playing days, Fitzgerald acknowledged the support he received during his career before wishing his club luck: “The support I got playing for all three teams during the good times and the tough times is something I’ll cherish and never forget .”
Fitzgerald, son of former Irish international Des, will now focus on completing his business degree at University College Dublin.