So, after a year on the sidelines, Jamie Heaslip has finally called it quits on the game he served with distinction for more than a decade.
He bows out at the age of 34, a grand old age in the current climate of huge hits and lung-bursting speed of play at the highest level having occupied the No.8 jersey of Leinster, Ireland and the British & Irish Lions.
Few of his generation or any other will be able to boast the achievements and success to which Heaslip has contributed since pulling on the blue of his native province for the first time in 2005.
Three Six Nations titles, including the Grand Slam in 2009, in a 95-Test career in green as well five more for the Lions over two tours in 2009 and 2013, while for Leinster there were three Heineken Cups, three Celtic Leagues and a European Challenge Cup.
He retires on medical advice following a lower back injury sustained during the 2017 Six Nations and after almost making it back to the frontline before deciding enough was enough.
He called it a day at the time of his choosing, an outcome many and not so lucky to enjoy, as he acknowledged himself when making his announcement on Monday.
“A lot of players unfortunately don’t get the opportunity to bow out on their own terms but thankfully having taken my time and after medical advice and consultation with my wife and close family, I have taken this decision with my future well-being in mind.”
It has been the career of a back-row colossus and Irish supporters should be grateful they were around to witness it, not least the part he played in famous victories, including a maiden Test win on South African soil and that historic November day in Chicago when the All Blacks fell to the men in green for the first time in 111 years.
The tributes from team-mates and coaches put some flesh on the long list of achievements and gave context to the personal honours that included twice being nominated for the World Rugby Player of the Year Award in 2009 and in 2016, as well as the recipient of the World Rugby Try of the Year Award for his score against Italy in the 2016 Six Nations, when Heaslip ran almost the length of the field to get on the end of a wonderfully flowing Ireland move.
Sad to see injury forcing @jamieheaslip into early retirement. What a servant to @leinsterrugby, @IrishRugby & @lionsofficial he’s been. A terrific professional and incredibly savvy player that you could only fully appreciate as a team mate. pic.twitter.com/3JijdYnpAe
— Brian O'Driscoll (@BrianODriscoll) February 26, 2018
“A great example for younger players with his professionalism, dedication and application on and off the field,” said IRFU performance director David Nucifora, while Joe Schmidt, who worked with Heaslip at both Leinster and Ireland, described him as an “intelligent and incredibly robust player”.
“Utterly professional, driven to succeed and a leader with the actions he delivered,” Schmidt added.
Perhaps the most heartfelt testimony came from former pack-mate turned Leinster head coach Leo Cullen, who commented: “What separated Jamie was his attention to detail, his desire to continuously improve, his work rate and his fierce competitive instincts when he was on the field. Jamie wanted to win and that meant the standard of what his team-mates was delivering had to get better also.”
Heaslip’s options as he leaves behind life as a professional athlete are wide and varied.
He has a number of successful business ventures up and running, and has always made sure not to pigeonhole himself as an out and out rugby-head.
That can only help as he assesses his next move in a long life still to be lived.
Yet while Leinster and Irish rugby will be lesser for Heaslip’s absence from the blue or green No.8 jersey, it would be a great shame if the man and his vast experience of life at the sport’s pinnacle were to walk away from the game completely.
As the tributes have suggested, there is too much intellectual property in Heaslip’s rugby brain to be allowed to leave the game.