STEPHEN FITZGERALD HAS had his rugby career cut short by the knee injury he suffered 16 months ago while playing for Connacht.

Fitzgerald, who underwent three operations to repair the damage that occurred during a January 2020 game against Leinster, has been advised to retire on medical grounds.

The 25-year-old back, who hails from Ardnacrusha on the Clare-Limerick border, will officially hang up his boots when his contract expires this summer.

“I’m devastated and heartbroken to be finishing my career at the end of the season,” he said “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.”

Fitzgerald came through the ranks at Munster. Aged 19, he made a try-scoring debut for the province during an away win over Ospreys in September 2015.

After joining Connacht – initially on loan – in December 2018, the former Ireland U20 international went on to make 18 appearances, scoring two tries. 

Fitzgerald pictured during his Munster debut against Ospreys. Source: Ian Cook/INPHO

He added: “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 team-mates for the amazing memories from my school days with Ard Scoil, 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.”