Leinster Rugby prop Michael Bent has announced his decision to retire from professional rugby at the end of the current season.
It seems like only yesterday that Michael Bent was having a shamrock stamped on his chest and a sliotar stuck in his hand in the most bizarre display of forced faux Irishness since Tom Cruise destroyed the Irish accent in 'Far and Away.'
Despite his Irish lineage – his maternal grandmother hailed from Rathmines – the ex-Taranaki front-rower wasn't exactly showered with a thousand welcomes and those who came here without any attachment to the country, other than a financial contract, were at the time more eagerly embraced, which always seemed odd.
Keith Wood had led the charge with a declamatory yowl: "How in the name of Jesus are we getting to the point where a guy flies into the country and he will play for Ireland?"
Initially, Bent appeared to skew the perceptions; starting for Ireland before lining out for Leinster, he thieved a penalty from South Africa's Heinke van der Merwe; the Irish camp subtly planted lines that the established Mike Ross was gulping for air.
"I know there were a few mixed opinions out there and I respect that," he told us at the time; he had more claims to a jersey than most as grandmother Myrtle was a woman of Rathmines.
His sister Kimberley made the journey before the young rugby professional and laid the groundwork for her brother to follow his heart.
"People are entitled to have their own opinion. But for me, I was coming into the team.
“I was asked if I wanted to be part of it, and having Irish heritage which I'm very proud of, it was certainly something I was never going to turn down.”
A month later, however, and the same Bent was being concertinaed by an Academy loosehead in Galway and, most damningly, by Tom Court, another Antipodean-turned-Ireland international, who he had so spectacularly usurped in the November squad.
Since then, Bent quietly slipped off the radar. Never the most voluble of speakers, he became utterly contented in becoming a valued and valuable squad component at one of the most successful club sides in world rugby.
And Leinster were more than content to have him, too.
He originally joined Leinster in 2012 and was been capped on four occasions by Ireland, has played on 155 occasions for the club since his debut against Zebre in December 2012.
In his first season, Bent played 14 games as Leinster won a Challenge Cup and domestic double and over the next nine seasons contributed to a Heineken Champions Cup, a Challenge Cup and six domestic Guinness PRO12/14 titles.
As well as being remarkably durable during his nine seasons in blue, Bent was also a huge asset on both sides of the front row.
He started out and is currently regarded as a tighthead prop, but he was, for three seasons, an option at loosehead also.
Bent will retire from the game at the end of season when he returns to New Zealand with his wife Celyse and children Emmerson and Eli.
Speaking about his decision, Bent, who turns 35 at the weekend, said, “Firstly, I’d like to express my gratitude for the support I’ve received throughout my time with Leinster. Leinster supporters are world class.
“I’m aware that not everyone gets the opportunity to have nine years with a team, especially not one the calibre of Leinster so for that in itself, I’m incredibly grateful. I’ve been lucky enough to play alongside and against some of the greats with a team that has achieved so much.
“My career has seen its share of ups and downs and I’m grateful for it all as it has led me to where I am today both professionally and within my life outside of rugby.
“I couldn’t have done this without the support of my wife, Celyse, my children Emme and Eli, and my family. I’m looking forward to the start of our future back home in New Zealand on our family farm and hopefully I’ll be able to keep myself involved in the local rugby scene in some way.
“I owe this opportunity and the last nine years to my grandmother, Myrtle, and her incredible journey from Rathmines in Dublin to New Zealand all those years ago. I hope I have made her proud and my only wish is that she could have been there to see me play and to pull on the blue of Leinster and the green of Ireland.
“I’ll always consider Ireland my second home. It’s the birth place of my children and it holds so many memories for me and my family.
“It’s a unique season to be retiring on and I do hope before the boots are hung up for good that there might be supporters back in the stands.
“If not, it has been a privilege. Thank you.”
After making his Leinster debut in December 2012, he would have to wait until February 2014 for his first try away from home against Cardiff Blues and four years later in February 2018, he would lead the team out on the occasion of his 100th cap against Edinburgh.
Last month in the final of the Guinness PRO14, Bent, along with Devin Toner and Scott Fardy, lifted the PRO14 trophy on behalf of the wider squad of 57 players as Leinster accounted for Munster Rugby at the RDS Arena.
Leinster Rugby head coach Leo Cullen referenced that honour as he led the tributes to the much-loved front rower.
“We will all be sorry to say goodbye to Michael Bent, who will undoubtedly go down as one of the unsung heroes of Leinster Rugby.
“Since arriving in Ireland and shortly after going on to make his Ireland debut, Michael has gone on to represent Leinster 155 times.
“With so many demands on our squad, including multiple players away on international duty, Benty has delivered rock-solid performances season after season, as well as providing much-needed leadership and guidance for the younger players.
“There is huge affection for Michael within the group and everyone will have seen what a popular figure he is when he got on stage with Fards and Dev to lift the Guinness PRO14 trophy recently.
“We would like to wish Michael, his wife Celyse and their two children Emme and Eli safe travels and the best of luck as they begin the next phase of their life back in New Zealand.”