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Big Mal calls time on his playing days

THE swift incline-decline from soaring like an eagle to dropping like a fly is the natural trend over the short length of a sporting career. Well, so it goes for most sportsmen.

Ireland and Leinster lock Malcolm O’Kelly has finally conceded that even he cannot avoid the roll of time, bowing out of the professional game at the ripe old age of 35 with a possible starting slot in Saturday’s Magners League semi-final within his grasp now that Leo Cullen has been ruled out of action.

However, Jonny Sexton, Gordon D'Arcy and Shaun Berne are all included in the squad.

“It is a very difficult thing. It is something I have thought about for years. It doesn’t sit easily with me, but it is the right thing to do,” said O’Kelly.

“You think you can go on forever. But, it is not really there anymore. I am having to work extremely hard and not getting a huge amount in return. It is becoming a harder and harder battle”.

O’Kelly will leave the sport with 92 Ireland caps and 186 appearances for Leinster, and counting, a Celtic League medal, a Magners League medal, a Heineken Cup medal and a Grand Slam medal. This boy has done good, alright.

O'Kelly won the first of his 92 caps for Ireland against New Zealand in 1997 and featured in the 1999, 2003 and 2007 World Cups. He also toured Australia with the British and Irish Lions in 2001 before a groin injury robbed him of his place on the 2005 trip to New Zealand.

Triple Crown

During his Test career O'Kelly helped Ireland to Triple Crown success in 2004 and 2006, but missed out on the following year's whitewash of the other home nations, and was part of the squad that ended the 61-year wait for a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2009.

“He has been a pro for a long time. I don’t even think I was born when Mal started out. The mere fact of his standing within our squad at the moment, where he is in line for a start this weekend, says it all about him,” said Leinster coach Michael Cheika.

“From the first day I came in he was open to change. He helped me to make changes in a different way. He may not be the captain style of player, but he undertakes his influence more as a colleague”.

“He is always open to becoming better as a player. Even now, we’ve just come off the field from training, he was out there running around still wanting to improve and be better.

“He has been an unbelievable influence on the team, on me, and his been an integral part of the change that has occurred at Leinster over the last five years”.

O'Kelly follows in the footsteps of team-mate Girvan Dempsey, with the full-back also set to retire at the end of the current campaign.

Malcolm O’Kelly is a man for all seasons, or at least 15 of them, and all the reasons in the world to be proud of the contribution he has made to Leinster and Irish rugby.