I'll be looking for fairytale end to great adventure
Player Diary: Mike Ross
I won't lie. It took me a while to start writing this column, which will be the last one I write in my capacity as a professional rugby player. I wrote my first entry back in 2011, prior to the World Cup, and this will be number 72.
I was reading through a few of them recently, and they're a great memory-jogger, reminding me of some great days, as well as the tough times. Last week though and the match against Glasgow in the RDS was one of the great days.
I stored up some really good memories from that evening when I led the team out against the 2015 PRO12 champions and even more special was that I walked out with my son Kevin holding my hand as one of the mascots. He was even wearing one of my old scrum caps that got melted and shrunk in the dryer!
It was a very special moment for me, and one that Kevin will long remember too. He was really excited about it, and he was buzzing that night before he went to bed.
Leading the team out was also a first for me and I have to pay credit to Ross Molony for giving me the privilege, especially considering it was his first time captaining the senior squad. He'll have plenty of other opportunities I'm sure but it speaks to the qualities of the man.
Later, when I took leave of the RDS for possibly the last time, I was extremely touched by the reception I got. I know how lucky I am to get that - plenty of the lads like Shane Jennings, Luke Fitzgerald and Eoin Reddan didn't get that opportunity for one reason or another so it was very much appreciated.
I may have come late to professional rugby but I suppose, looking back, there's a huge amount of highlights.
Winning my first European Cup in 2011 after being in the depths of despair at half-time against Northampton was one. Winning in 2012 against Ulster was a much different experience, but equally satisfying. Picking up a PRO12 medal at the fourth time of asking in 2013 was another. Internationally, winning the Six Nations in 2014 was definitely a highlight, closely followed by the win in 2015.
I have heard some former players say that you remember the losses more and there have been plenty of those too. Losing three PRO12 finals in a row. The semi-final loss to Toulon in 2014. Missing out on Lions selection in 2013. And of course, losing out in the quarter-finals at the 2011 and 2015 World Cups. They all took a long time to get over.
Above all, I'm incredibly lucky to have had the career that I did. I never dreamed when I turned up for my first pre-season training at Harlequins' base in Wimbledon that I'd go on to play over 300 professional games and win 61 caps for my country. I've made some amazing friends throughout my career, relationships that will last a lifetime. I've seen a lot of the world too, and stayed in some fairly nice hotels while doing so!
As the saying goes, no man is an island, and I owe a lot to the people in my life that helped to make it happen. First and foremost, my wife Kim has been a huge source of strength throughout my career.
As she's from Connecticut, she had little knowledge of what rugby was but was a quick learner. She's had to deal with me being away a lot, six months of the year sometimes in the case of World Cup years. She's had to endure tough situations like both kids having chicken pox while I was swimming with sharks in South Africa without (too much) complaint.
My parents, Frank and Patricia, and my siblings, Matthew, Alistair and Kathryn, have been some of my biggest supporters, turning up to games since I was 11 years old.
For now, though, there are possibly three weeks left in the season if we perform the way we need to.
We didn't have our greatest performance against Ulster and we'll need to be far more clinical against Scarlets next week if we're to reach another Guinness PRO12 final.
I'm hoping that I've one more big day left and I'll be doing my utmost to get into the 23 for the semi-final.
It's been a wonderful adventure at Leinster and I'll be looking for that fairytale ending.