Monday 18 December 2017

'My family life suffered and I became depressed' - Ireland international Declan Fitzpatrick on his concussion-enforced retirement

Ulster prop Declan Fitzpatrick
Ulster prop Declan Fitzpatrick

Ruaidhri O’Connor

Ulster and Ireland prop Declan Fitzpatrick is to today announce his retirement from rugby as a result of the concussions he has suffered over the course of the last number of seasons.

The seven-times capped tighthead has not played since January’s defeat to Toulon in France after incurring his latest head injury and has opted to call time on his career rather than risk another blow to the head. He has another season to run on the IRFU contract he signed alongside fellow retiree Stephen Ferris in January 2014.

The issue of the danger of concussion in rugby has dominated the debate around the sport this season after a number of high profile incidents and Fitzpatrick follows Leinster pair John Fogarty and Bernard Jackman, Connacht lock Craig Clarke and England centre Shontayne Hape in giving up the game as a result of brain injuries.

Ulster are set to confirm the 31-year-old’s  retirement later this afternoon, bringing to a premature end a career that promised much at times but was cut down before the prop could ever make a bigger impact.

Fitzpatrick’s last cap for Ireland came in the defeat to New Zealand in 2013 and he was one of Joe Schmidt’s best performers during that dramatic, heartbreaking end-game.

He had been earmarked as long-term cover for Mike Ross, but injuries have prevented him from building on the promise he showed, with two significant concussions keeping him out for long periods while he also suffered a heart scare a year ago which he put down related to his caffeine intake before playing.

Earlier this year, he spoke about his head injuries and the impact they had had on his day-to-day life.

“Knocks are obviously part and parcel of the game,” said Fitzpatrick. “I’ve just been very unfortunate with the injuries I had, which had me out of the game for a long time. The two significant concussions were obviously the main problems.

“I had a couple of bangs in succession, and to be honest, I didn’t rest fully,” admits Fitzpatrick who has won seven caps.

“It was all about me wanting to play for Ireland. The first knock I got was while playing in the November series and I thought there was a lot of pressure on me to play as I was sort of breaking through then.

“Concussion is one of these injuries where you just cannot get it fixed in six weeks. It’s day by day and very hard to judge and people are saying that ‘you look all right’. But it is only in hindsight I realise I should’ve given it more time.

“Everything is great now. If the protocols that are in place now were in place when I first picked up a knock I would have been fine for the last two seasons.

“Then it was always on the player. The more you take it out of the player’s hands, the better it is. There is so much on the line.

“There is so much going on in your mind. Sometimes you have a mild headache and you are thinking it will go away, but it doesn’t. It could develop into what I got, which was concussion syndrome. I just had a permanent headache. It was mild, but it affected my mood and my decision-making.

“Then I developed migraine headaches, which I suffered from as a kid. You are then double-guessing yourself. Everything though was going well up to last year when I took a hefty knock against Leinster. I told the coaches I was not feeling well at all.

“My family life was beginning to suffer and when I went home I was trying to hide it from everybody. As the season played out I couldn’t get on top of it and became a bit depressed.

“But I’ve had a good summer coming into this season, trained really well and have got all the assurances from all the professionals, and Ulster have been outstanding in how they have managed it.

“The new protocols in place now have been helpful to me and great for young guys. I feel that rugby is at the forefront of concussion and has made giant strides.”

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