Connacht winger Stephen Fitzgerald has announced his retirement after 17 months of injury hell.
25-year-old Fitzgerald - older brother to Connacht outhalf Conor - has been forced to call time in his short career, after complications from an ACL injury sustained in January 2020.
The back-three specialist suffered the knee injury in a PRO14 meeting against Leinster in January 2020, with three surgeries failing to repair the problem before he was advised to retire on medical grounds.
Injury limited Fitzgerald to just 18 games since he joined Connacht from home-club Munster - initially on a three month loan - in December 2018.
In a statement released through the province, Stephen Fitzgerald said he had to accept his 17-month injury battle was one he could not win.
"I’m devastated and heartbroken to be finishing my career at the end of the season. The last two years have been extremely tough with three operations on my knee and unfortunately this is a battle that I’m going to lose.
"The one thing I’m massively proud of and gives me peace of mind moving forward is knowing I have worked the hardest I ever have in my life trying to get back. I’ve been lucky to have the amazing medical staff in Connacht looking after me, who all went above and beyond anything I ever expected. They always had my best interests at heart and I’ll always be grateful for their efforts.
Stephen Fitzgerald | 'I have worked the hardest I ever have in my life'
"Growing up I dreamed of playing rugby at the highest level. I’ve been lucky to experience this with both Munster and Connacht. I’m extremely grateful to all my coaches and teammates for the amazing memories from my school days with Ardscoil, with my club Shannon, to representing my country underage and finally to playing for both Munster and Connacht. The thrill I got from playing in front of family, friends and fans in a packed Thomond Park or The Sportsground is like nothing I’ve experienced before. I want to thank all the fans who have supported me and welcomed me with open arms along the way. Being fortunate enough to play for you and have your support is something that will always make me proud.
"Lastly, I just want to thank everyone who has helped me get to where I am today. I’m extremely lucky to have amazing friends and family who have supported me. My family and girlfriend have been there for me more than they will ever realise and I just hope I’ve made them proud of what I’ve done. I look forward to being a fan and enjoying getting back in the stands with ye all soon," he said.
The Shannon clubman had been a major prospect in the Munster ranks, starring for an Ardscoil Rís side that reached the final of the Munster schools Senior Cup, before scoring five tries in eight Ireland under 20 caps.
Fitzgerald made his Munster debut aged just 19, scoring a try away to the Ospreys in September 2015. However, his progress with Munster was also disrupted through injury.
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