Grand Slam winning prop and Munster’s most capped forward, Marcus Horan, announced yesterday that he will retire from professional rugby at the end of the season.
The announcement, made first of all to his Munster colleagues ahead of training in Cork IT, will bring the curtain down on a marvellous career stretching back 14 seasons that saw him become Munster’s most capped forward (224 caps) while also winning 67 Ireland caps.
Marcus Horan earned his first senior competitive cap in the Interprovincial match in August 1999 against Leinster and the first of his 84 Heineken Cup caps came later that season when he came on as a replacement for Peter Clohessy in Munster’s 32-10 win over Pontypridd at Thomond Park.
His first Heineken Cup start came three weeks later in the exalted front company of Keith Wood and John Hayes in the historic first ever victory on French soil over Colomiers at Stade les Sept Derniers – an indication of his burgeoning talent being his comfort at playing the second half of that game at tighthead prop after Hayes retired injured.
He also deputised at tighthead in the subsequent games, the return fixture against Pontypridd, after 23 minutes of the quarter-final against Stade Francais and again in the famous semi-final win over mighty Toulouse in Bordeaux.
Horan continued to serve his time to Clohessy, sitting on the bench behind him in the 2000 and 2002 finals but when the 2002/03 season kicked off Horan was wearing the number 1 shirt and made it almost exclusively his own for the ensuing seven seasons.
He played a crucial role in Munster’s Heineken Cup successes of 2006 and 2008 as well as their league title wins in 2003 and 2010.
He won his first Six Nations cap during the 2002/03 campaign and was the starting loosehead in all of Ireland’s games when they claimed the Grand Slam in 2009.
Acknowledged and respected as one of the finest looseheads of his generation, he more than held his own in that most demanding department and always against the very best of company.
His footballing skills have seen him remain one of Munster’s leading try scorers with 11 in the Heineken Cup out of a career total of 30.
Niall O’Donovan was Munster forwards coach when Horan started and ironically is the current team manager as Horan calls time.
“I’ve known and been involved with Marcus since he was an 18-year-old starting out with Shannon and subsequently with Munster and Ireland as well,” said O’Donovan.
“Throughout that time he conducted himself always with dedication, always in a truly professional manner and in a Munster sense his contribution has been immense.
“He’s been a great team player, an exemplary squad member, an example to others. I understand how difficult it must be for Marcus to make this decision.
“It’s never an easy one, and it presents a challenge. But I’ve no doubt Marcus will meet that challenge with the same courage he showed on countless occasion in the past both on and off the field.”
As for the player himself, it was business as usual. After breaking the news to colleagues, he trained with the squad in CIT.
Speaking afterwards, Horan admitted: “Of course it was a tough decision to make. No question of that. You don’t walk away from a group like this easily or without sadness. They’ve been such a huge part of my life.
“But I’m happy giving the options presented to me, it was the right decision for me and my family. I’ve had a great career, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.
“To that end I’d like to thank all those involved for helping me along the way, be it at club, provincial or international level.
“But I couldn’t have achieved what I did without the support of my family and I am grateful to them beyond words.
“I’m looking forward now to being able to spend a bit more time with them. Hopefully give a little bit back to them now.”
He added: “Talking about support, I have to mention the marvellous Munster supporters whose unwavering loyalty down the years was another huge factor in making my career so memorable. Fabulous people.”