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Dempsey calls time on career

You don't get much time to dwell on the past in rugby.

The sagging disappointment of the Heineken Cup semi-final has been overtaken by the announcement of the retirement of Ireland international Girvan Dempsey from professional rugby at the end of this season and the return from injury of Sean O'Brien for the first time since February.

The personal experiences of one man at the end of his time and another closer to the beginning are a solemn lesson in a most transitory profession.

Dempsey, 34, a consummate professional and gentleman, has decided his mind and body are ready for a change.

Indeed, Shane Horgan, 31, is well-placed to examine Dempsey's contribution: "I played with him right from the early days. He stood out in training straight away. He was exceptional under the high ball.

"He is an amazingly solid player and a player who has contributed much more than on the pitch. He has been a bedrock for the success.

"He was professional before anybody was professional in the way he lived his life and trained. For young players coming in, they always recognise how Girvan is doing the right things in the right way.

"More than an individual moment, it is his ongoing contribution that I will remember, the joy of playing with him and him cleaning up my mess."

It would be a fitting tribute to Dempsey if Leinster were to end his last season with another trophy, the second Magners League in three years.

"Of course, there is a huge disappointment in losing the tag of European champions. There is nothing that makes up for that," said Horgan.

"It would be a real disappointment and a disservice if we didn't produce the type of rugby that could possibly bring us to win (the Magners)."

The new play-off format means Leinster will not be crowned Magners champions on Sunday. There must be mixed feelings about the new system, given Leinster's position as leaders.

"It has been exciting. It gives the fans something to invest in the competition. The worst thing you can have is a competition that is over with three or four weeks left. You have a lot of dead rubbers which doesn't benefit anyone.

"The idea of a final, of a showcase, is quite important for the brand as well," emphasised Horgan.

In terms of the ultra-competitive O'Brien, he must be eager to step back into the trenches given his love of physical contact. It is a timely return as Shane Jennings is ruled out with what assistant coach Alan Gaffney called a "rolled ankle". He should be available for the Magners semi-final.

Out-half Jonathan Sexton has been included in the squad, although his participation is still shrouded in doubt.

Meanwhile, Munster have been hit with a second-row crisis as captain Paul O'Connell and his replacement Mick O'Driscoll have been ruled out with injury. Third-choice Donnacha Ryan is also out of commission.

The likely option is Alan Quinlan moving into the second-row, allowing Billy Holland time on the flank, although Nick Williams carries enough bulk to make an impression at lock.

It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Leinster and Munster will end up seeded against each other in the semi-final, or, better again, the final, in what would be another tremendous occasion for Irish rugby.

Heaven knows we need it right now.