'Tommy has been a class act both on and off the pitch' - tributes to retiring Ireland star Bowe
IRELAND coaches past and present in Eddie O’Sullivan and Joe Schmidt, along with current captain Rory Best, have led the tributes to Tommy Bowe, who has announced he will bring the curtain down on his career at the end of the season.
The Ulster and Ireland winger won 69 caps for his country, featured in two World Cups and played on two British and Irish Lions tours, making five Test match appearances in the famous red shirt.
One of many career highlights came in 2009 when his spectacular try against Wales in Cardiff helped Ireland win their first Grand Slam since 1948.
“I could never have imagined the career professional rugby has given me and I am so grateful to my close friends, family and agent for their incredible support throughout the highs and lows,” said the 33-year-old.
“My beautiful wife Lucy has been my rock and little daughter Emma my newest inspiration.
“I want to thank everyone involved in Ulster Rugby, the Ospreys, Ireland and the British and Irish Lions for giving me the chance to live a dream I never thought possible.
“I’d also like to thank all those at Royal School Armagh, Queen’s University and Monaghan RFC minis, where it all began.
“To my team-mates; the bond of going out onto the field together and the most special feeling in a changing room after a win are what I am going to treasure in the last few months as I will miss them most.
“I’ve met some incredible people and made friends that will hopefully last a lifetime.”
Bowe’s career with club and country – he played for the Ospreys in Wales between 2008 and 2012 before returning to his native province – has been blighted by injury particularly in recent years.
The latest setback occurred earlier this month when a damaged shoulder sustained in a PRO14 match against Leinster ruled him out for eight weeks, possibly precipitating his decision to hang up his boots at the end of the season.
It was O’Sullivan who gave Bowe his first Irish cap against the USA in 2004.
“The back-end of his career, he really matured and in ‘09 he was crucial,” said the Cork man.
“I thought the try in Cardiff, the famous try that won the Grand Slam, in many ways, was the turning point in the game.”
“The dynamics in that game, Ireland were struggling to find their mojo and that cross-kick that he hit on the full and went straight down the middle of the field and scored, that’s one of the greats of Irish rugby.”
“Apart from the Grand Slam, he’ll be seen as a really, really, good footballer in his time and it’s a pity to see him going.
“If he had been lucky with injuries he could probably have gone on longer, maybe a year or two.
“But injuries have been his downfall – he’s been very unlucky and as you get older it gets harder and the rehab gets longer.
“He is the consummate footballer and has been a huge servant to Ulster and Irish rugby.”
Bowe’s latest injury ended any hope that he could add to his tally of Irish caps and current national coach Schmidt also paid him a glowing tribute.
“Tommy has been a class act both on and off the pitch. He has been a great ambassador for Irish rugby,” said the New Zealander.
“He’s inspired many of the people around him and entertained crowds for over a decade.”
Ulster and Ireland captain Best said Bowe’s presence both on the pitch and in the dressing-room will be sorely missed.
“I’ve been fortunate to have played with Tommy for a very long time and we have shared some incredible times together in Ulster, Ireland and Lions jerseys,” he said.
“In my opinion, his qualities as a player are exceeded only by his qualities as a person.
“He is a genuine, honest, humble guy, and I have the utmost respect for him.
“Tommy is a key member of our leadership group at Ulster and he has continually led the way in terms of driving our standards on and off the pitch.
“He is the ultimate professional and he is the perfect example for any aspiring young player to follow.”