RUGBY STAR Shane Horgan this week said ' thanks' for the huge outpouring of support he'd received in his native Drogheda after announcing his retirement from the game.
The mind-boggling number of column inches the sad news has received since last Wednesday is a measure of the high esteem in which the 33-year-old international is held and Horgan will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greats in the oval-ball game.
Who can forget that moment in the dying seconds of the 2006 Six Nations Championship when he stretched his 6ft 4in frame at the corner flag to land a Triple Crownwinning try at Twickenham? Or that Gaa-style catch from a Ronan O'gara cross-field kick which yielded another score in the 43-13 mauling of England at Croke Park 12 months later?
Only Brian O'driscoll, Denis Hickie and Tommy Bowe have scored more tries for Ireland and Horgan has won Triple Crowns, two Heineken Cups with Leinster and earned British and Irish Lions caps to boot.
But the well-documented knee problems – specifically the patella tendon – and the emergence of Bowe ensured that the Drogheda man didn't feature in Declan Kidney's plans in more recent years.
In 2009 he was at the O2 Arena watching Bernard Dunne claim a world boxing title on the day Ireland famously landed the Grand Slam in Cardiff and last May he admitted in this newspaper that his international career was over – in the same week he was winning the Heineken Cup for the second time.
Asked about the timing of last week's announcement, Horgan told the Drogheda Independent: ' There was a bit of serendipity in that it fell between the Six Nations and Heineken Cup. I knew a couple of weeks ago, but I was out of the country for a short time and it just fell well.
'I was still hopeful up until a reasonably short time ago, but it was getting less and less likely that I would play rugby again and by the end I was hoping for something spectacular in my recovery.
'If I was to try and push to get back to the level of a professional player, there would be long-term consequences for my knee. There's still day-to-day pain which is causing me issues, but hopefully I can continue on an extended rehabilitation so that, at some stage, I could play some recreational sport – maybe golf or indoor soccer.'
Inevitably, he will miss the competitive element of rugby and the camaraderie of playing with a talented squad week in, week out.
'I will miss the actual game and playing out there on the field because there's a lot of adrenalin tied in with that. I will also miss working with the hugely talented individuals I've worked with during my career and the times I shared with them, but rugby still exists beyond the game itself and the friendships you make can be retained beyond your playing days.
'I haven't given a lot of thought to regrets. I've been very fortunate to be involved in great teams and I've been lucky to be involved in great success. The World Cup in 2007 was very disappointing and I think, along with the Grand Slam, they would be the ones I would like to have, but I won't really miss them – as I look back on my career, I consider myself very fortunate.'
Notwithstanding their fourth-place finish in this year's Six Nations, Horgan feels that the continuing success of Ireland's provinces points to the international team remaining very competitive in the lead-up to the 2015 World Cup – at least in the northern hemisphere.
'I think they are in reasonable shape, although it was a very disappointing end to the Six Nations. They have a very tough tour to New Zealand coming up which really does not mean a lot. Expectations will be quite low and a good few players will get exposure to highlevel rugby and we will see where they are come Autumn Internationals time.
'We have a lot of very good players and we've seen that through the provinces and as long as the provinces are strong and the players are able to compete in the best teams in Europe, I would be hopeful that there is no reason why Ireland shouldn't do well.'
Never one to rest on his laurels, Horgan is already turning his attention to what the future holds. Certainly there is the prospect of him having more time to come home to his native Drogheda, but it seems that he won't be going down the coaching route.
'Having been involved in rugby for so long, I'm always very focused on the next challenge and that will continue to be the case,' he said.
'I will continue to do some media work and work with companies I'm involved in and I will go down the legal route and continue my legal studies. Coaching is not something I've considered. Some players go into it, but I don't know if it's necessarily good for me. My own involvement in rugby will be as a fan for the foreseeable future.
'I will also be a follower of Meath football, as I always have been, and I am well aware of the significance of the game against Louth. Hopefully we will get the local bragging rights!
'I was really humbled by the contact I have had from individuals and various people right across Drogheda and into Meath and Bellewstown. It's been touching and people have been incredibly generous and kind to my parents also.
'Hopefully I will have the chance to get back and thank them for their support during my whole career which has been forthcoming no matter whether I've had a good or bad game.'