Concussion forces Fitzpatrick into retirement
Ireland prop Declan Fitzpatrick has been forced to retire from rugby after suffering a number of concussions in recent seasons, writes Ruaidhri O'Connor.
The seven-times-capped tighthead was under contract with the IRFU until the end of next season, but was advised to give up the game on medical grounds as a result of his head injuries.
The 31-year-old last played for Ulster against Toulon in January but he suffered his latest concussion in the weeks that followed and found the symptoms took longer to clear than they had before. He had previously suffered two bad concussions and found that the after-effects had impacted on his personal life, while he also suffered a heart scare a year ago.
Ulster referred their player to a neurologist who advised Fitzpatrick that it would be in his long-term interests to hang up his boots after he underwent tests.
He won the last of his seven caps for Ireland as a replacement for Mike Ross in the 2013 defeat to New Zealand and was earmarked as the No 2 tighthead spot by Joe Schmidt before injury and the emergence of Marty Moore forced him out.
"Declan has been a tremendous servant for both Ulster and Ireland. Having played almost 100 times for the province and seven times for Ireland is evidence of a long and successful rugby career," Ulster manager Bryn Cunningham said. "He will be missed both on and off the pitch and I know everyone connected at Ulster Rugby - players, management and supporters - will wish him well in his retirement."
Meanwhile, Paul O'Connell leads the nominees for this season's Hibernia College IRUPA players' player of the year after leading Ireland to back-to-back Six Nations titles.
He faces competition from Connacht's Robbie Henshaw, Munster's Conor Murray and returning Racing Metro out-half Johnny Sexton for the top award which will be handed out at a ceremony on May 13.
Henshaw is also nominated for the Nevin Spence Young Player of the Year award which he has claimed for the past two seasons. He faces competition from Leinster pair Jack McGrath and Jack Conan.