Ulster, Ireland and British & Irish Lions back rower Stephen Ferris has today confirmed that he is to retire from rugby, following a long battle with injury.
Stephen Ferris won 35 caps for Ireland and made 106 appearances for Ulster. The 28-year-old represented the national team at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand and played in all five games of Ireland's 2009 Grand Slam success.
That same year he was selected for the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa and scored two tries before injury prevented him from claiming a Test place. He won his last cap for Ireland against England in the RBS 6 Nations in March 2012.
Ferris, a graduate of the Hughes Insurance Ulster Rugby Academy, made his debut for Ulster as a replacement against Border Reivers in 2005 aged just 20.
He quickly made an Ulster starting place his own and was named Ulster's Player of the Year in 2006. In 2012 he was man-of-the-match in the Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Munster and was instrumental as the province made the final for the first time since 1999.
Ferris suffered an ankle injury against Edinburgh in the RaboDirect PRO12 in November 2012 and spent 16 months on the sidelines.
He made his return as a replacement against the Scarlets in March and played three more games for Ulster. His final appearance for the province was in the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Saracens at Ravenhill.
Commenting on his retirement, Ferris said: "It is every young rugby player's dream to represent their province and their country and I have been enormously privileged to have done both.
"I have shared a pitch with so many talented players over the past nine years and I want to thank my team-mates at Ulster and Ireland for the support that they have given me.
"I also want to thank the IRFU as well as the strength & conditioning coaches and medical team at Ulster Rugby for all their hard work, patience and backing over the past year and a half.
"Finally, I would like to thank my family - my mum Linda and my dad Robert who helped me on the journey from playing rugby as a young kid at Portadown to lining out for the British & Irish Lions. My girlfriend Laura has been and remains a constant source of inspiration and encouragement.
"I have had a great career, met many wonderful people and I hang up the boots with no regrets."
Ulster's director of rugby David Humphreys said: "I would like to thank Stephen for the outstanding contribution that he has made to Ulster Rugby.
"We knew from the day and hour that he walked into the Academy that he was an exceptional talent. Through dedication and hard work he developed into one of the best forwards in the world game.
"He has always played an important leadership role within the squad and he helped mentor and inspire others.
"While we are sorry to be losing Stephen, we recognise and celebrate the exceptional rugby career that he has had and wish him every success in the future."
Connacht Rugby and Life Style Sports launched the province's new home jersey in Eyre Square today. New arrival and All Black centurion Mils Muliaina joined his Connacht team-mates Robbie Henshaw, Rodney Ah You, Fionn Carr, David McSharry, Andrew Browne, Michael Kearney and Denis Buckley to showcase the new partnership with Life Style Sports.
The inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup is set to explode into action in mid-October with two compelling weekends of heavyweight clashes between European club rugby's professional elite. Leinster, Munster and Ulster will all face English opponents in the opening round.
Looking forward to the new GUINNESS PRO12 season, Connacht captain John Muldoon said: "We've a lot of younger guys who have big years ahead of them and a few big name signings who will hopefully be able to fit into the system and work hard among the ethos of Connacht Rugby."
Irish Rugby TV was at the launch of the GUINNESS PRO12 and we caught up with Jamie Heaslip, Pat Lam, John Muldoon, Matt O'Connor and Rory Sheridan of Diageo as the new sponsor gets ready to kick off an exciting season.
Out-half Dan Parks had a vital role in Connacht's historic Heineken Cup triumph in Toulouse, kicking two penalties, a drop goal and the touchline conversion of Kieran Marmion's try. He spoke to Rob Murphy after the game.
Rob Murphy caught up with Gavin Duffy after Connacht's inspirational defeat of Toulouse in the Heineken Cup, with the Mayo man giving an insight into how they produced such a high quality performance against the French giants.
Young scrum half Kieran Marmion was one of Connacht's star performers in their famous 16-14 Heineken Cup victory away to Toulouse, scoring a crucial second half try and picking up the man-of-the-match award.
Giving his reaction after Connacht's historic 16-14 win away to Toulouse, head coach Pat Lam said: "The belief's been there, we knew that this performance was not far away. To come here in a massive game with the side they put out is an unbelievable effort (from us) and I'm so proud of the guys."
Fergus McFadden, who helped to launch the Ulster Bank League awards in Dublin, spoke afterwards about his recovery from a fractured hand, previewed Leinster's back-to-back games against Northampton Saints and reflected on his involvement in the GUINNESS Series with Ireland.
Out-half Craig Ronaldson, who has made a successful transition from Ulster Bank League rugby with Lansdowne to a professional contract with Connacht, talks about the step up to this level of rugby, the importance of the league in providing game-time and a shop window for players and he also previews the province's back-to-back clashes with Toulouse.
Connacht head coach Pat Lam was proud of the performance his players produced in their 23-17 Heineken Cup defeat to Saracens, but he was left frustrated by some of referee Pascal Gauzere's decisions in a tight second half.
The Irish launch of the 2013/14 Heineken Cup took place in Dublin last week and Irish Rugby TV caught up with Sky Sports commentator Stuart Barnes to chat about his favourite Heineken Cup memories and get his thoughts on this season's tournament.