'A huge decision to leave Munster, one I thought long and hard about' - Munster legend Donncha O'Callaghan on his exit
Munster's most capped player Donncha O'Callaghan has admitted he mulled over the decision to leave his native province, but the opportunity to extend his playing career was too good to refuse.
Munster today confirmed the departure of the second row. O'Callaghan is currently contracted to the province until June 2016 but Munster and the IRFU have accepted the player's request for an early release and support O'Callaghan in his decision to leave.
O'Callaghan will join English Premiership side Worcester Warriors on a two-year contract.
"It has been a huge decision for me to leave Munster, one that I have thought long and hard about," he said. "The opportunity to prolong my career is one that I couldn't pass up and I'm extremely grateful to Munster, the IRFU and Worcester for providing me with this opportunity.
"Playing for both my home province and country has been a dream come true for me and my family, I have loved every moment of it. I leave with a full heart and unbelievable memories.
"I'm forever grateful to those in Munster and Irish Rugby that put the structures in place all the way up, and most importantly, the people that have influenced and shaped me not only as a player but as a person.
O'Callaghan became Munster's most capped player in February 2014 against Zebre (241 appearances) the former Highfield, CBC and Cork Con lock has gone on to represent the province on 268 occasions over 17 seasons.
In his time with the province he was won two Heineken Cups, in 2006 and 2008, a Celtic League and 2 Magners League titles in 2003, 2009 and 2011 respectively, and a Celtic Cup in 2005.
"A proud Cork, Munster and Irish man he has forged the way for up-and-coming players always leading by example and setting the highest standards on and off the pitch," Munster CEO Garrett Fitzgerald said.
"We say farewell and thanks to a man that gave everything to the red jersey for seventeen years, and wish him all the best for the future."
Head coach Anthony Foley, who soldiered with the lock for both European successes, paid tribute to a "true Munster" man.
"I had the honour of playing with Donncha for over a decade and have witnessed first-hand everything he has achieved with Munster and Ireland," he said
"A true Munster man in every sense, his passion and commitment were clear for all to see. He is held in the highest regard on the world stage after excelling at every level and we are thankful for his immense contribution to the province."
On the international front O'Callaghan first tasted success at U19 level when winning the World Championship in 1998. He went on to make his senior debut against Wales in March 2003 and has made 94 appearances for his country.
Over an eleven year period he played his role in Ireland's three Triple Crown successes and played every minute of Ireland's Grand Slam winning campaign in 2009. In playing at every level he has featured in three World Cups, represented the Lions on two series (2005 and 2009), captaining the side to victory over the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth in 2009, and represented the Barbarians in June 2014.
O'Callaghan says he is looking forward to the new challenge and will continue to support his native province.
"My goal is the same now as it was when I was 8 years of age, to play rugby, enjoy it and win. I look forward to earning the respect of the Worcester management, players and supporters.
"Finally I would like to thank the Munster supporters - for over 17 years you have lifted me to play beyond myself and I look forward to going back and joining you in my first role with Munster, as a supporter."